The CONCACAF Champions league was built up as Major League Soccer’s opportunity to show how well it sides perform while in season. The complaint about the now retired Champions Cup was that it was played during the MLS preseason. However, despite a flattering scoreline the first match of the Champions League showed how outclassed outside the United States MLS sides often times are, even though New England is arguably the best MLS team around. While Chivas USA certainly played a better match down in Panama than New England did in Port of Spain the result was the same: MLS lost. Now based on these results, it is very likely both MLS teams will advance to the group stage due to having home legs upcoming. Yet the point cannot be lost: unlike Mexican or Costa Rican sides, MLS teams cannot get results or even dictate play away from home.
The laundry list of excuses are already being touted: That MLS squads don’t have depth because of the roster limits, that teams are suffering from fixture congestion and that the focus right now remains on the MLS season. These excuses are to me worthless since the league itself has made such a production of touting its improvement when compared with football in other parts of the region. I have said this before and will say this again: I believe MLS circa 1998 had more quality than MLS circa 2008. Sure the talent is more evenly distributed now throughout the league, but the top teams and in fact the top players in league were more impressive ten years ago than they are today. The results MLS teams achieved versus sides from abroad in those days even in friendlies were quite frankly more impressive than today.
All of this really doesn’t matter if it weren’t for MLS’ own arrogance in promoting its product. As the defeat of Toronto FC in the Canadian Championship at the hands of the then last place USL-1 side demonstrated, that despite an increase in exposure due to a surge in popularity for football in North America, MLS’ product continues to be inferior to just about any other league available on American television. David Beckham’s arrival stateside gave MLS the impetus to over promote its own virtues.
MLS does not need to be the most competitive or attractive league in the world. As I have said before the old MLS that focused on player development and increasing access to the game was a preferable model to today’s league. But as the league has advanced an agenda of becoming a super league in North America, its impact on the US National Team as discussed a few weeks back has been problematic as is the seeming desire of the league to promote its own tournament which it runs, Superliga as some sort of major international event. This is because MLS receives the profits from the event via its marketing arm, SUM and all the matches are played on American soil. What’s even worse is in order to tout its own importance and value in footballing circles the league continues to boast about its competitiveness and quality when almost all visible evidence refutes these claims.