Brian Ching’s header last night sent the Dynamo through to the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Champions League. For all the criticisms of this tournament by MLS apologists, the event has produced from my vantage point much more entertaining football than MLS itself, and the Dyanmo who are a class organization whose goal is to collect silverware took the event seriously and it has paid off.
The irony is that Don Garber seemed defensive in his comments last week about USL’s success in the competition and has now changed the criteria for Superliga qualification thus allowing CONCACAF qualifiers to focus on that competition. Irrespective of the spin coming out of MLS HQ and Commissioner Garber’s mouth, I have believed for months now that the success of USL-1 side Montreal Impact in the Champions League made owner Joey Saputo and his co-investor George Gillett of Liverpool fame think MLS was less attractive. Whatever the real story is behind the rejection/withdrawal of Montreal’s MLS bid, the success of the Impact in CONCACAF made it possible.
Commissioner Garber has tacitly accepted the importance and value of the new tournament by changing the qualification criteria for Superliga, which now takes on a UEFA Cup type feel. The previous dilemma of how Superliga and the Champions League could co-exist has been resolved and the new Superliga format will prove to be effective for giving MLS Cup playoff qualifiers exposure to international competition.
The reality which has been lost on commentators and other MLS apologists who have bashed CONCACAF is that the Dynamo’s win last night was critical for salvaging MLS reputation in Central America and the Caribbean where this tournament is being taken very seriously by the local media. MLS has established its reputation as a superior league for players from these countries and is also a more accesible league for Central Americans and Caribbean stars than the FMF is. But many a football pundit in CONCACAF region had belittled MLS’ lack of competitiveness in this event. It may have been lost on those in the US, but the Caribbean press was unrelenting in its shots at MLS when Joe Public, a side whose history in these competitions has been one of futility pummeled MLS’ New England Revolution. Joe Public again proved their futility in group stages and was actually run off the pitch at home by the USL Montreal Impact.
Fixture congestion and lack of prestige in this competition were cited by MLS apologists as reasons not to care. But the two USL teams that competed and ultimately advanced to the knock out stages faced worse fixture congestion during the group stages than any MLS side. The lack of prestige argument never held water either, because MLS fans and officials were sweaty each and every year when the forerunner event of the Champions League, the Champions Cup took place. As was the case so often in the Champions Cup and in Superliga, the Houston Dyanmo alone have kept MLS credible.
MLS fans can live in an isolated coccon but under Oliver Luck and Dom Kinnear the Dynamo will not. Inspite of not winning the official MLS title this year, Houston has demonstrted again it is the best in the business. It seems that despite the rhetoric of the typical MLS fan, the league itself maybe taking the lesson taught by the Dyanamo and implementing it as an official league policy. Thank goodness for that.