Tropical Storm Hanna has wreaked havoc on Haiti and it also delayed the start of tonight’s CONCACAF Champions League match between Puerto Rico and Alajuelense. For the first time ever a Costa Rican club has been eliminated from a CONCACAF tournament by an American club with the USL-1 side doing the honors. The Islanders won despite playing four matches in the last eight days all over North and Central America thanks to the fixture congestion MLS and USL both seem to tolerate. The US Open Cup final between DC United and Charleston at RFK Stadium was a showcase of the best American club football has to offer. This game was absent of the bad giveaways and poor possession play that characterize MLS and are less prevalent but still numerous in USL-1.
I have to say I am somewhat offended that many of my colleagues and friends in the soccer blogger community have seemingly chosen to ignore the success of USL sides in this competition while continuing to discuss MLS’ failures in a vacuum. Football writers in England and Germany do not ignore their second divisions entirely and do not simply make assumptions about a product’s quality without watching it or trying to understand it. The dismissiveness of many towards USL this year has been shocking: the assumption during the early rounds of the US Open Cup was that USL sides were essentially semi pro teams and that any loss by MLS teams was on them, not due to the quality of play from USL. As one who follows both leagues closely I can tell you while the most individually talented players are in MLS, USL-1 has a quality to it unknown to MLS, something which both Puerto Rico and Montreal demonstrated in their CONCACAF triumphs: valuable midfield and attacking possession play. USL sides I have noticed also in my trips to Tropical Park Stadium and on the FSC Friday night telecast don’t commit all of the cheap giveaways MLS teams do. Yet USL sides lack the flair and quality in the final third to be as dangerous as MLS sides.
So basically I would say at home in an international competition I’d take a random MLS side, while when I travel to Central America or the Caribbean I’d take a top USL-1 side. While this sounds like I am simply interpreting the results of the last eight days this is based much more in the style and substance of play than on the results which of course do bear out my thinking.
USL sides are much more technical and composed on the ball: Charleston showed this again last night as well but they were facing in DC, a side much more refined and cultured than your average MLS side. First touches in USL tend to be less exaggerated than in MLS and while the best players in the nation play in MLS, their are also a number of development roster player who later in the season play significant roles in MLS: The majority of these players would not make a USL-1 roster.
I’d urge my colleagues in the soccer blogger community and media to pay more attention to USL-1. Sure the games aren’t played in the sexy venues and you don’t have a commissioner that likes to shoot off his mouth in selling the quality of his league, but the football itself is very revealing. It is no coincidence as we enter the group stages of the CONCACAF Champions League, the top club tournament in this region that USL has as many teams left in the event as MLS.
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