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CONCACAF Champions League

USL Has Earned a Permanent Spot in CONCACAF CL


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.

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  1. Footballer

    March 22, 2009 at 9:34 am

    A lot of ignorance in this thread.

    All UL-1 American teams ARE eligible for the ConcaChampions by way of the US Open Cup. If the Charleston Battery beat DC United in the 2008 US Open Cup Final, they would be playing in the 09-10 CONCACAF CL.

    @Phillip: Yes, the Mexican League’s Supporter’s Shield winner does get a spot in the Liberators Cup. However, they are ineligible if they are currently in the ConcaChampions. The 4 Mexican teams who participated in the 08-09 CONCACAF CL were INELIGIBLE for the 2009 Liberators Cup, no matter how many points they racked up in the Fall 2008 mini-season.

    I don’t think Mexican teams should continue to compete in the Liberators Cup. It makes teams wonder if it’s worth it to be finalists in their mini-seasons. I feel Club America purposely tanked the Fall 2007 miniseason in order to play in the 2008 Liberators Cup. That’s not cool.

    Instead, the Liberators Cup tourney should just absorb the ConcaChampions. The group stages would be localized, but the KO phase wouldn’t. The LC would encompass all of the Americas.

    Then again, I’d prefer that the whole Club World Cup qualifying system be played within the same year, not spanning 2.5 as it currently does.

  2. Roger

    March 14, 2009 at 2:10 am

    the best ting for US soccer is for MLS to desapear.
    The group of lawyers in charge,use the momentum after the 94 World Cup to make some Cash. They do not come from a soccer background;they came from Amerivan sports. Their mentality is like those who think that soccer in order to succed in US had to be change somewhow(remember the “shoot outs” grgrgrgrgrgrgrg).MLS is basically structure after US mayor sports.
    Thats why MLS is so unatractive for soccer fans in the US,the ones that follow the top soccer leagues on the planet. We soccer fans should challenge MLS and the USSF to do a survey among US soccer fans regarding promotion and relegation now.
    Do you fans think a team like the Montreal Impact or the Islanders should have the right to been promoted to a higher division on the pitch; or should a “comeetee” do it instead.

  3. Phillip

    March 12, 2009 at 12:31 am

    Thomas Skull,

    Mexcico rewards the side that finishes with the most points more than the teams that win their playoffs.

    The team that finishes with the most points goes to Copa Libertadores.

  4. Sage

    March 12, 2009 at 12:06 am

    Well thats not true… USL American based ssides can participate in the CCL via the US Open Cup… as long as they win it… and Charleston was very close to doing so last year… 😉

    I agree… USL should get a spot, or at least a playoff with the runner-up of the MLS.

  5. Thomas Skull

    March 11, 2009 at 12:20 pm

    USL cannot earn a spot for its US based reps as Joey said. Thus the US (MLS) should lose spots based on pathetic performances year in and year out.

  6. Thomas Skull

    March 11, 2009 at 12:18 pm

    Joey is right. Cut the number to two: US Open Cup Champion and MLS Cup Champion.

    Mexico doesn’t reward the team that has the most regular season points and neither should MLS which like the FMF plays an unbalanced schedule.

  7. Joey Clams

    March 11, 2009 at 11:01 am

    In my 8:43 post, I should have written “American teams FROM USL would never be permitted…”

  8. Joey Clams

    March 11, 2009 at 10:59 am

    You guys aren’t paying attention. MLS can’t lose a spot because it has no spots to lose. The United States has the spots. And because MLS is the federation-sanctioned top division in the US, it fills the US spots.

  9. Lawerence

    March 11, 2009 at 9:54 am

    I’m not sure USL has yet earned a spot but no argument on MLS which does deserve to lose at minimum one automatic spot perhaps two.

    Superliga is not a serious tournament and those above trying to spin it as such just make themselves and MLS-SUM look even less credible by extension. Heck it’s really a set a friendlies…….don’t they allow 5 subs/match in that “tournament” partly because it’s preseason for Mexico and partly because it is not FIFA/CONCACAF sanctioned?

  10. Joey Clams

    March 11, 2009 at 8:43 am

    It will never be allowed. The USSF can recognize ONE top level league so American teams would never be permitted to enter an international competition that determines continental supremacy.

  11. Jonathan

    March 10, 2009 at 10:26 pm

    If USL doesn’t get a permanent spot on the CCL, I’m going to have a bigger grudge on MLS( and its allies at USSF). Even if their sham product improve enough to be watchable.

  12. Roger

    March 10, 2009 at 4:55 pm

    How about:
    2 MLS
    1 USL
    1 US Open Cup(whoever wins it)

  13. Ric

    March 10, 2009 at 4:39 pm

    wait, Kartik posting an article critical of MLS performance in international competitions? Who would have ever thunk it?

  14. J

    March 10, 2009 at 2:27 pm


    PR did not enter as USL we had to pre-qualify thru the CFU and we were 3rd palace.

    Chris B:
    We are hearing the same “wait until next year” for the past 6, 7, 8, years now?

    What Kartik is proposing sounds fair 2 MLS + 1 USL and give the 4th spot to another league. Mexico 4 teams and USA 2 and probably 3 is fair MLS is not neither 2/4th of FMF nor 3/4 MLS sorry guys.

    At least at club level (with a bunch of foreigner), I hate to admit FMF is CONCACAF’s strongest league.

  15. mrthreed

    March 10, 2009 at 1:39 pm

    In 2007, the Houston Dynamo advance against Pachuca if the away goal rule is applied. Wish they would have played Atlante in 2009 like they battled Pachuca in 2007.

  16. MLS Rumors

    March 10, 2009 at 12:49 pm

    Come down off of the ledge Kartik. You are using the first year of a tournament to make some grand statements about the USL. Let’s see what the record is some 5 years form now when the tourney has some history.

  17. EPLNFL

    March 10, 2009 at 12:07 pm

    Superliga is a shame Les. Agreed .Yet it is a shame that brings in TV revenue and will continue to be a profitable shame for the MLS. A necessary evil. The CCL is not a sham but does not have the television audience that Superliga has at least right now.

    Let’s hope one day we can sit back and laugh about the early days of the CCL and MLS after they became important fixtures on the sports agenda each year. I’m old enough to remember the first Super Bowl. It wasn’t a sell out!

  18. Les

    March 10, 2009 at 10:55 am

    MLS having four spots was always a farce.

    You can spin it anyway you want but MLS teams have not performed well in legitimate international competitions whenever and wherever they are held for a long long time.

    Superliga is a sham, made for TV event which no serious soccer fan can count as anything greater than a glorified tournament of friendly matches. It’s no different than AEG’s “world series of soccer” which was played in 2005 and 2007 and actually featured a winner and lots of money for AEG and SUM.

    USL has earned a place for sure. The question is how badly should MLS be penalized? I don’t think the league has earned the opportunity to put its cup finalists, the loser of the MLS Cup in this tournament.

    The rules of MLS prohibit teams from competing successfully even over a long term within the league. That’s why teams are generally inconsistent even if they win the MLS Cup during much of the season. The league wants respect, but has done nothing to earn respect other than signing some big name players and doing a fair job of marketing.

    But the league believes it’s own hype and it’s own PR and that is a problem.

  19. Joey Clams

    March 10, 2009 at 10:49 am


    As long as MLS remains the federation-sanctioned top level league in and of the United States and until USL becomes that sanctioned league, what you envision will never happen.

    And Montreal qualified not through USL but through a Canadian three-way home and home.

  20. BoriQa

    March 10, 2009 at 8:06 am

    Absolutely agree.

    The USA based USL teams deserve an automatic spot to the CCL.

    With PR in the Caribbean, and Montreal or Vancouver (before they downgrade to the MLS), there should be 3 USL teams in the CCL showing off that the USL belongs there.

  21. Joey Clams

    March 10, 2009 at 6:52 am

    Do the individual teams qualify as reps of the league or of their countries?

  22. eplnfl

    March 10, 2009 at 6:34 am

    Well now that we have become USL Talk, lol, yes the MLS should be ashamed of their performance.

    The MLS does not care idea seems to be the most obvious answer. How can you ask a team with a full season ahead for it to play full speed in the pre-season Then Superliga is more important to MLS and it’s fan base. How much does the MLS base care about the CCL. Ok, it’s nice to watch.

    No knock on the USL or it’s team, they should be proud, they do a great job and I want a strong first division as I have written elsewhere. The CCL is much more critical to them.

  23. Phillip

    March 10, 2009 at 2:09 am

    USL squads spread the money out to build depth at more than 1 or 2 positions. MLS squads spend roughly 40% of their allowed roster money on 3-4 positions, and have to use the rest to field a decent starting XI, let alone any reserves.

    Injuries killed DC United in last year’s group stage.
    Injuries and transfers killed Chivas USA in last year’s group stage.
    New England’s reasoning isn’t as good.

  24. Daniel Feuerstein

    March 10, 2009 at 12:55 am

    I have admitted that using superliga is an excuse. But the truth is this, I don’t believe Steve Nicol, Preki & Dominic Kinnear has used it as an excuse. They did take the CCL seriously. MLS FO has to stop tripping their own feet & did so for the 09-10 tournament. We also have to blame CONCACAF because they never thought that Superliga was ever going to be created.

    But all I can do is look at my club Red Bull NY & tell all of you they are taking it seriously. Juan Carlos Osorio is constructing the roster to handle the MLS Season, US Open Cup & the CCL.

    The USL sides outside of the USA like the Montreal Impact & Puerto Rico Islanders, earned their way & deserved to get as far as they did, even thought Montreal should be in the Semis along with Puerto Rico.

  25. Chris B

    March 10, 2009 at 12:18 am

    I’m sorry but one tournament is not enough. If next year MLS does well and USL does not, what then?
    I wait two years then switch the bids.

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