Editor’s Note: With this piece, we welcome Connor Walsh to the Yanks Are Coming family. We’re excited to have him on board, and think you’ll like what he has to say…or at least want to discuss it if you don’t!
By Connor Walsh
Ask even the most pessimistic American soccer fan, and they’ll tell you that MLS is miles ahead of where it was just even two or three years ago. Just this past season the league added two more franchises in Portland and Vancouver, with Montreal set to join in 2012. The league has recently signed new massive contracts with NBC for television rights and a contract with Adidas for jersey rights. They’ve reinstated the Reserve League and extended the roster limit to 30 players. Even in this time of relative economic turmoil, Major League Soccer continues to thrive. But it isn’t just the MLS front office that’s making big moves.
On August 17, 2011, FC Dallas knocked off Mexican club team Pumas in a group stage match of the CONCACAF Champions League. Pumas are the reigning Primera Division champions and FC Dallas got the victory IN MEXICO! Make of the result what you will, being that Pumas played with a glorified team of youth and reserves. Nonetheless, the message had been sent. A week later, Seattle Sounders traveled down Mexico way and came away victorious against reigning CCL champions Monterrey, another 1-0 result. No excuses for Monterrey, they played their first choice lineup. Chalk up two for MLS in Mexico.
And while it didn’t exactly conjure up images of the Babe, Bucky Dent and Aaron Boone (a certain TYAC Editor is a speck in the exuberant left field throng in that video), MLS fans the world over can breathe a sigh of relief; the famous curse has been broken.
It nearly happened last season, with Real Salt Lake coming up just short on two occasions. RSL were also the first MLS club to win a CCL group.
Take a closer look at the group standings this season and you’ll all notice that an MLS club leads all groups through two games, and the lone MLS team that doesn’t lead its group currently sits in second. In a single table format the top four clubs in MLS would be the L.A. Galaxy, the Seattle Sounders, FC Dallas, and the Colorado Rapids. Head back to the CCL group standings and you’ll start to see a trend here. Yep, those four clubs just mentioned– they happen to be the same sides that lead their respective CCL groups at the moment.
Group A is led by the LA Galaxy after a pair of victories at The Home Depot Center over Honduras club Motagua and Costa Rican club Alajuelense. The Galaxy have been dominant, scoring four goals and conceding none. That’s a big step up from getting clobbered by the Puerto Rico Islanders– a la last season.
Group B is led by Colorado, which has four points after beating El Salvadorian club Metapan 3-2 at Dicks Sporting Goods Park, and coming within three minutes of second win at Real Espana in Honduras. Instead, they settled for a 1-1 draw after conceding very late.
FC Dallas has clearly been the most impressive of all the MLS clubs, winning twice on the road at Toronto FC and then at Pumas for their famous win to lead Group C. MLS’ Toronto FC currently sits second in the group with three points after beating Tauro of Panama in their opening match.
Group D is led by the Seattle Sounders who dismantled Guatemalan club Comunicaciones 4-1 at home before grabbing their now famous win at Monterrey.
The 2011/2012 edition of the CONCACAF Champions League seems like the one where records will be broken when it comes to MLS clubs. United States based MLS clubs have won seven of eight group stage matches, drawn the other (against another MLS club), and all lead their respective groups.
Are teams taking the competition more seriously? Have the recent changes that MLS has made opened up the door for MLS clubs to be successful? Perhaps a combination of the two?
There’s no doubt in my mind that clubs and players want to win trophies. But throughout the last couple seasons, there were plenty claims that MLS teams had no care for international competitions as their main focus was on the playoff race. But there is no doubt this year, while some Mexican clubs may be lining up backups for their group matches, MLS clubs are playing first choice squads.
Major League Soccer just this season expanded the roster limits to 30 players. This move clearly has its motives in MLS clubs being able compete in international tournaments. The grueling schedule last season with restricted rosters meant that club managers would be forced to rest first team players in the CCL in order to make sure they were fit to continue in the domestic schedule. Clearly the changes that MLS made have not only helped make MLS more competitive internationally, but are sending notice that this league of barely 15 years is raising the bar and is set to challenge Mexico’s Primera Division as the dominant domestic league in the confederation.
Now, it is still quite early in the group stages, with four games to be played yet in each group. Much could go wrong, and certainly, MLS clubs will still have to venture across the border three more times in the group stages; September 13 L.A. Galaxy @ Morelia, September 14 Toronto FC @ Pumas, and October 19 Colorado Rapids @ Santos Laguna. That said, if MLS clubs can maintain their current run of form in the CCL, it’s a shot across the bow at Mexico, and more importantly, the rest of the world that MLS is becoming a stronger league with each passing year.
Connor Walsh is a contributing writer for The Yanks Are Coming. He has also written, from time to time, for The Shin Guardian, among other publications. You can follow his musings on US Soccer, and his beloved Arsenal, on Twitter at @USAGunnerWalsh.