For years the ugly stepchild of the US Soccer scene, USL-1 has earned a permanent spot in the region’s biggest club football event: The CONCACAF Champions League. Puerto Rico and Montreal represented the league with incredible class and demonstrated the quality of the second flight of North American football.
At the same time MLS clubs accumulated a pathetic 2-10-6 record in this competition. While MLS apologists and snobs are sure to begin to list typical excuses of fixture congestion, squad limits, preseason, etc after hearing the same things like a broken record for nine years excuse me if I am tired of it already. By contrast USL teams have gone 10-6-4 in the competition.
Save the late collapse by the Montreal Impact in Torreon last week, the USL would have joined the FMF with two semifinal participants. As it stands however, USL is the only league other than the FMF to have a semifinalist in the event in Colin Clarke’s Puerto Rico Islanders.
MLS clubs have routinely been humiliated when traveling to Central America or Mexico. Excuses have been perpetuated by apologists for the league. These excuses only seem to apply to MLS. No other side has injuries, fixture congestion or pre-season rust.
Puerto Rico for their part looked terrible in the first half of their home leg against Marathon, thanks to not having played a competitive match in three months. But the Islanders found their legs in the second half and left home with a 2-1 aggregate lead.
In San Pedro Sula, the Islanders were without reigning USL MVP Jonny Steele or midfield maestro Peter Villegas. Yet the Islanders persevered and got a late away goal to win the tie 3-1 on aggregate. This victory sent shock waves through the nation’s football establishment. For years if MLS teams needed a result or even a goal late in a game in Central America, they simply couldn’t find it and then would resort to the usual excuse making.
For years MLS teams have been embarrassed in CONCACAF competitions. The last MLS team to win a CONCACAF event, the LA Galaxy in 2000 played all its matches at home and managed to avoid Mexican opposition in the process. Still that achievement was notable as no MLS team has since beaten a Mexican or Costa Rican side on the road, and only once in 2007, when Houston got a weaker Costa Rican team has an MLS side won a two leg tie with a side from Costa Rica or Mexico.
The awarding of four spots to MLS, the same number as the clearly superior Mexican League was insulting. Based on traditional continental performance, MLS should at most be awarded two spots in CCL, with only one being an automatic group stage spot. USL should earn one of the former MLS spots, and the fourth MLS spot should be awarded to a Central American league.
When the CONCACAF Champions League was announced over a year ago in Miami, I was fortunate enough to be among the credentialed press at Jack Warner’s news conference. The CONCACAF boss was peppered with questions as to why MLS received as many spots in the tournament as the FMF despite having a far worse record in the Confederations competitions.
This is an opportunity for CONCACAF to revisit the formula for the 2009-10 event. If this event is to last it must be credible and by awarding MLS an over representation of a league that has clearly not performed well at the highest level, the tournament suffers.
Major League Soccer must earn the respect and deference afforded to it for no discernable reason. Don Garber is a great spinmeister: in fact he’d have done well in the Clinton or Bush White Houses. But the spin has been debunked by the pathetic performances of MLS when it really matters.