Taking a 2-0 lead back to Mexico for an MLS or USL side in a Continental competition should never be permitted. For third time in three years a team from one of North America’s leagues has blown a two goal aggregate lead heading into the second leg. Ironically, however the result ended up being affected by CONCACAF’s rules that have changed over the past few years.
In the old Champions Cup, CONCACAF did not use away goals. Had the away goals rule been applied, Houston would have advanced to the CONCACAF Champions Cup final in 2007 defeating Pachuca. Instead, Pachuca advanced after scoring a winning goal in extra time.
Earlier this year, the Montreal Impact knowing CONCACAF was now using the away goals rule scored two away goals at Santos, meaning they’d advance on a tied aggregate score, but gave up two goals in stoppage time, the final one clearly offsides and we eliminated at the hands of the Mexican side.
Then last night, much of the American TV audience was under the impression for most of extra time that the Puerto Rico Islanders would advance on a drawn aggregate score because of a goal in extra time. However, we discovered late in the second stanza of extra time that goals scored after the initial 90 minutes away from home do not count as away goals (as they do in UEFA and COMENBOL) and thus the Islanders went to PKs with Cruz Azul and predictably lost.
Also, let’s not forget that DC United lost in the Copa Sudamericana second round in 2007 to Chivas because COMNEBOL did apply the away goals rule at the time in their competition.
Mexican sides are clearly superior to MLS or USL sides. Anyone who watched the Mexican League and has also watched MLS or USL can clearly state that. For all the talk that MLS is balanced, Mexico has produced far more competitive teams than any other league in the Americas.
In fact, I would strongly argue based on watching world football from all over the globe that top to bottom the Mexican League is one of the top seven leagues on the planet and is easily the best league in the Americas. The top teams in Brazil and Argentina tend to be better than the top Mexican teams, but the 10th best teams in those top South American leagues are almost always badly outclassed when compared to the top teams in Mexico.
This all having been said, it’s ironic that MLS or USL cannot buy a break against Mexican clubs. The last significant, cup determining victory for a US based club in a legitimate continental competition over Mexican opposition was DC United’s 1-0 win at RFK Stadium in a one leg final of the 1998 CONCACAF Champions Cup.
Last night, the Islanders defended well but Cruz Azul a man down for much of the match were able to get two goals in regulation time, both from long range. But Puerto Rico kept its shape well for much of the match, determined to defend and organized by a top class goalkeeper.
Then in extra time after the Islanders got a goal from Sandy Gbandi, Puerto Rico was reduced to 10 men with an injury to Christian Arrieta and a rare goalkeeping mistake by Bill Gaudette led to an equalizer: at the time many of us thought it wasn’t an equalizer because the away goals rules was thought to apply to extra time.
Puerto Rico did not do a good job of counter attacking in the first half but early in the second half Colin Clarke jumped the gun sensing he needed a goal and replaced Josh Hansen with Kendall Jageosingh. But an injury to Nicholas Addlery meant that Jageosingh had to carry the Islanders attack late, something he isn’t used to doing and something that was bound not to work.
While Clarke can be criticized for making the move when he did, especially in light of Addlery later injury, the manager felt he needed to make a change in light of the dominance of Cruz Azul. The move no doubt backfired, but Clarke cannot be blamed for trying.
The Islanders had a wonderful run in the CONCACAF Champions League. But as has been the case in every CONCACAF final since 2001, no team from the United States will be in the final while a team from Mexico will be in the final, in this case two teams. In 2000, the LA Galaxy faced Olimpia of Honduras in the CONCACAF Champions Cup final.
The Islanders can take solace in the fact that they pushed the most decorated club in CONCACAF’s history to the brink and a PK shootout. But like every other MLS or USL club they came up short on Mexican soil.