Different Night, Same Story: USL Triumphs, MLS Fails
What else is new? Another night of CONCACAF Champions League Action and another loss for an MLS side while another result is recorded by a side from our second division, USL-1. However we must all cut DC United some slack: without so many key players and then down a man after Devin McTavish’s strange sending off, the Red and Black fought valiantly against a superior Saprissa side. This stands in stark contrast to the New England Revolution who two weeks ago disgraced themselves and their league with their failure to show for a match against Joe Public. Puerto Rico welcomed skipper Peter Villegas, of Metrostars fame back to its side to beat Tauro FC 2-1 despite being a man down for much of the match. Villegas made an instant impact with a goal, and one wonders after how he played last night how the Islanders advanced to this stage without him. After all MLS sides save Houston have proven losing one key player in CONCACAF events is a pretense for excuse making.
But something has to be addressed. MLS apologists continue to make excuses about this tournament after building this event up before it started. The argument was that MLS continuously lost to Mexican sides in the defunct CONCACAF Champions Cup because the event was in the Mexican pre season. But the few Mexican fans I spoke to always countered that their teams were so beat up then and focused on their Clausura tournament that the fact that they beat MLS sides was a strong indication that the gap between the two leagues was actually wider than Americans fans wanted to claim. Considering MLS has now been shown up by its regions second division in the competition MLS apologists were pointing too, I don’t think MLS fans should be chanting “bring on Cruz Azul,” or even “bring on the Montreal Impact.”
USL-1 sides suffer from similar fixture congestion to MLS team. While they do not have Superliga to contend with, the single table format of USL means trips from Bayoman PR to Vancouver are possible, much longer than the longest MLS trip from Foxboro to Carson. Secondly USL-1 generally plays games on Friday and Sunday each weekend to save on travel costs. For example Miami FC will play @ Seattle and @ Portland the same weekend. This scheduling format has been perfected by the PAC 10 in College Basketball who uses a Thursday/Saturday scheduling format.
My round about point is these same scheduling issues have not affected USL sides whose regular season is actually about to end and who are in the middle of a playoff race. For example the Islanders have a must win game this weekend to ensure winning the Commissioners Cup and getting a playoff bye. However they still played brilliantly last night. The week the Montreal Impact faced Real Esteli of Nicaragua, they played at home to the Nicarguan side, home to Miami, at Atlanta and at Real Esteli in Honduras all within six days Yet somehow they survived and used the success to gain momentum for their push in the league. However when MLS sides have similar fixture congestion they tend to collapse and then make excuses. This is a phenomena I cannot explain other than the theorize that MLS teams are so used to justifying failure and trying to oversell the quality of their product the whole spin cycle becomes second nature.
As USL-1 continues to achieve success on the pitch while MLS achieves more and more monetary and marketing success the two models must be integrated together and not merely through MLS expansion to USL cities. MLS must understand why USL teams are having so much success in the CONCACAF Champions League, despite limited budgets and similar fixture congestion.