Promising start goes sour for MLS in CONCACAF Champions League

IMAGE, MATT KREMKAU FOR EMPIRE OF SOCCER

by RYAN BRISTER
Staff Writer

Recent weeks have seen questions raised about the quality of play in Major League Soccer. MLS points to its constant improvement, but no one would argue that it has reached the level of the best leagues in Europe. Complicating the question is the difficulty in measuring a league’s quality without competitive play against other leagues.

If MLS wants to assert its quality, one surefire way to do that would be to win the CONCACAF Champions League.

Since the continental competition went to its current format in 2008, MLS clubs have struggled to overcome their Mexican counterparts. Whether it is the clashing competition calendar or travel, it has been a difficult challenge for any MLS.  Only Real Salt Lake, in 2011, has reached the final under the new set-up.

This year’s group stage must have been frustrating for MLS: just two out of five clubs advanced to the knockout rounds after a promising start to the tournament.

DC United: Won their group, 1 seed in knockout rounds

DC was the only team to win all four of their group stage matches, but they weren’t exactly dominant against opponents from Panama and Jamaica, with a goal differential of just +5. With 12 points, United will have the top seed going forward, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll have the easiest route to the final. DC will play Alajuelense in the quarterfinals. The Costa Rican side escaped a group with defending champions Cruz Azul, and last year Alajuelense reached the semis.

Portland Timbers: Finished second in their group

Portland went down to Honduras on Tuesday, needing only to lose by less than two to advance to the knockout rounds. They proceeded to give up two goals in the opening five minutes in a 3-1 loss. The Timbers Army was not thrilled with this result, and owner Merritt Paulson responded to their frustration by airing out his own. Portland’s disappointing season may come to an end on Saturday, when they play for their playoff lives in Dallas.

Montreal Impact: Won their group, 4 seed in knockout rounds

The Impact have the worst record in MLS this year, but their successes in the Canadian Championship and the CCL might redeem Frank Klopas’ first year in charge. Montreal won their first three matches, but the draw against New York hurt their seeding. As a result, they’ll play Mexican side Pachuca when the quarterfinals take place early in 2o15.

New York Red Bulls: Finished second in their group

Sharing a three-team group with another MLS team wasn’t an easy prospect to begin with, but Red Bulls fans might wonder what could have been if the club took the CCL more seriously. Mike Petke claims his bosses care more about results in the league than in continental play, and so he took a less than complete squad to El Salvador for New York’s match against CD FAS. The scoreless draw eliminated the Red Bulls from further contention. Few showed up to Red Bull Arena for the obligatory final game against Montreal.

Sporting Kansas City: Finished second in their group

SKC’s results in MLS have drooped since they began CCL play in August, and a slip-up in Costa Rica has cost them their chances in that competition, too. Like the Timbers, Kansas City entered their game against Saprissa needing to avoid a two goal loss, but they lost 2-0 in Costa Rica Thursday night. Adding injuries to insult, both Benny Feilhaber and Juliao had to be subbed off in the first half against Saprissa, which could be huge blows as SKC heads into the playoffs.

If MLS wants to be taken seriously on a world stage, it first needs to prove itself on a continental stage. As it stands, too many MLS clubs treat the Champions League as a secondary competition, at best. There is little incentive for North American clubs to give their all in poorly attended midweek group-stage games, but that will have to change to prevent such disappointing results in the future.

  • jspech

    adjust schedule, play on wkends!