Impact Offer Blueprint For MLS Success In CCL: Prioritize Your Competitions

IMAGE, MLSSOCCER.COM

by RYAN BRISTER
MLS Beat Writer

The Montreal Impact fell short of making history last night. Club América ended their dreams of becoming the first Major League Soccer team to win the CONCACAF Champions League with a 4-2 defeat at Olympic Stadium.

But Montreal’s run to the final is an outlier for MLS. It is just the second time that an MLS team has reached the continent’s final since CONCACAF implemented two-legged ties in 2002. Real Salt Lake reached the CCL final in 2011, but did not have to beat Mexican opposition to do so.

The question now is why? And how can MLS build upon the successes of one of their weakest teams league wide?

One of the most common complaints about MLS teams in the CCL is that the league’s salary rules prevent teams from having the depth required to compete on two fronts at once. This was still true of Montreal’s run, but their priorities were reversed: the CCL came first, MLS second. Montreal was able to prioritize continental play in part because they were so bad in MLS last year. While the Red Bulls, Timbers, and Sporting KC were all in the midst of a playoff hunt last fall, the Impact were bringing up the rear of the Eastern Conference. To the extent that an MLS team can be out of the playoff chase in August, the Impact were. As Red Bulls fans might remember, Mike Petke sent out subpar lineups in the CCL because ownership cared more about results in MLS than a shot at regional glory.

When they reached the knockout stages, Montreal had the benefit of MLS rescheduling games so that the Impact could focus on the tournament. To that point, they have played just four matches so far in MLS — and they haven’t won any.

Beyond ownership, fans generally care more about MLS play. In most MLS cities, CCL games are poorly-attended midweek affairs, particularly in the group stage.  When interest is high, the gate still pales to MLS league play. Last year, LA’s quarterfinal against Club Tijuana drew a crowd of just 15,159. Even Seattle could only draw 21,057 for a semifinal in 2013.

Crowds like that further send the message that the CCL is of secondary concern. The fact that most games are on channels like Fox Sports 2 is beyond their control, but does not help the perception.

But Montreal is a city that has an appreciation of the CCL. It dates back to the Impact’s 2008 run to the quarterfinals, back when the team was still playing in the USL. More than 55,000 fans were at Olympic Stadium for their match against Santos Laguna. They averaged better than 40,000 for three knockout stage games this year.

Montreal fans treat the continental games as big events, which is rarely the case elsewhere in MLS.

Even with these factors on Montreal’s side, they barely reached the final. They were done in early March, losing to Pachuca in stoppage time before Cameron Porter saved the day in the quarterfinals. They hung on in bull-rider fashion to survive the semifinal in Costa Rica. And of course, they gave the entire country of Mexico a scare for 140 minutes until Club América ultimately proved too much for them to handle.

Yes, MLS will have to increase the salary cap if it hopes to regularly compete with the talent of Liga MX sides in the CCL. But teams won’t even be able to achieve what Montreal did if they don’t take on the tournament with the dedication it requires.

The onus this autumn falls on LA, Seattle, DC, RSL, and Vancouver to treat the CCL as a priority — not an afterthought. That will mean some bold sacrifice on behalf of every one of those clubs. The MLS calendar won’t change. The obstacles will remain the same. All five CCL sides have the ability to contend for an MLS title. Will one prioritize CCL over the regular season? Or will we be waiting a while for the next MLS team in the regional final?

 

  • OpenCupFan

    Is it common practice around the world to shuffle domestic schedule to help team prepare for Championship game? MLS giving Montreal weeks to prepare for this series seems unfair – I am not aware of this any where else – but if this is common practice so be it. On its face, it seems bush league given Club America is in competing with a full schedule.

    • Ryan Brister

      It’s not common, as far as I know. It’s one of the quirks of MLS being single-entity; teams are more willing/made to cooperate with one another. And of course the league wants one of its teams to win because that looks good. Liga MX doesn’t care; its teams have won 10 tournaments in a row. The Premier League doesn’t care; it is more secure in its perception as a quality league.

    • slowleftarm

      It’s common in Europe to move a game up from say Sunday to Saturday if a team has an upcoming champions league game. Nothing “bush league” at all about MLS helping Montreal. Club America may have a fuller schedule but they also can spend far more to assemble a deep squad.

      • OpenCupFan

        If you can’t recognize the difference between rescheduling a game by a day and clearing out WEEKS to help a team prepare, well then I know a guy selling a bridge you might get interested in.

        • Slowleftarm

          Sure there’s a difference but it’s one of degree. And there’s nothing “bush league” about rescheduling. Sounds like you’re new to the game.

  • yrmmsbx

    Ryan, you’re correct to discuss team’s priorities and how much emphasis they put on the CCL, but you can’t just waive away the money issues.

    Talent follows money in the global football economy.
    Investment in development, spending money to keep your developed players, and opening the checkbook to bring in key outside stars.

    MLS doesn’t really do this at a serious level. I hope someday they will.
    Perhaps then they’ll find it easier to devote time and resources to the CCL

    • Ryan Brister

      I didn’t mean to brush off the salary issues, though I can see how it reads that way. My main point was more that, at the current salary level, MLS still needs work to make even modest gains. It can’t expect a run like Montreal’s to become a regular thing.

  • Chepe pedos

    What matters is what is on the field . The playing , the product. Thats what almost all mls teams lack.

  • max

    Twellman.

    https://twitter.com/TaylorTwellman/status/593826066608758785

    MLS should scrap the DP player rule for a luxury cap rule.

    Smaller MLS teams who can’t attract big DP’s could instead use say $5m to bring in 10 players at $500,000. Which would probably make them the best team in MLS.

    The DP rule is outdated and leads to ‘retirement league’ players.

    MLS is a serious destination for players worldwide now, a change in this rule would dramatically change the quality of MLS.

  • Hydrahamster

    My problem is, MLS can never stay being close like this in CCL when our teams do yearly drafting. Single entity brings in inconsistency instead of consistent growth. MLS is looking more at their check books over the quality in the game that will win them more fans and money. You seen those Montreal fans in the CCL finals. Most of those people never supported Montreal Impact in MLS matches until another Canadian team visits. People keep saying that MLS need to buy better younger quality foreign players, but that is not going to solve anything when the quality of American and Canadian players are average, mediocre or amateur. Shooting to hign is MLS’s downfall. They need to focus on what they have and develop them into decent players hungry for success. That’s the difference between MLS and Liga MX. Liga MX is a good league with players passion in the game. They care about their league and national team. MLS don’t have that. There are more people fans of the national teams, but hate MLS for being Americanized. Klinsmann and Garber don’t get alone because Garber have this illusion that MLS is at a level where they can develop a player into world class. Doing stuff like that takes decades and dedication from both the league and players. As they are now, neither player nor league have that kind of dedication and patience to grow into a quality player. MLS is to Americanize.