The CONCACAF Champions League isn't the measuring stick for MLS everyone seems to think it is
From afar, it is not clear how the Major League Soccer teams are doing in the CONCACAF Champions League.
For years, MLS fans and observers have lamented the league's failures in the regional club competition that crowns a champion for North and Central America and the Caribbean. Since the format change in 2008, only four MLS teams have made it to the finals - Real Salt Lake in 2011, Montreal Impact in 2015, Toronto FC in 2018, and LAFC this year.
Everyone lost. Mexican teams always got in the way at some point. It took an MLS team endless attempts to knock out even a league MX counterpart.
It was the MLS white whale that eventually won the CONCACAF Champions League. It would mark his arrival; cement his rise.
But see it for what it really is and that makes little sense. Even in a regular year, the CCL is a competition that goes largely unnoticed even by MLS fans. On Tuesday, the final was postponed to the little-regarded FOX Sports 2 and programmed to compete with the Matchup Lakers-Clippers compared to the opening night of the NBA.
On top of that, like everything else, the CCL had been abandoned in March but only resumed nine months later in a bubble in Orlando. Yet the insistence on its importance persisted.
Carlos Vela (right) and LAFC weren't the first MLS team to win the continental Champions League in 20 years. So what? (Photo by Alex Menendez / Getty Images)
LAFC knocked out three Mexican teams en route to this season's finals - overcoming deficits in all three rounds and eliminating mighty Club America in an ugly semi-final on Saturday when there was a man with a headbutt that never happened - and was the fourth MLS team in the final. But in the title game against another Mexican team, Tigres, they wasted a lead in the second half, losing 2-1 and extending the curse of the MLS in the CCL, or whatever you want to call it.
Before the game, the excitement had grown that this might finally be the year. LAFC could represent a fundamental change and find the solution to finally play against Mexican teams.
"Winning the CONCACAF Champions League from an MLS perspective is important as it is viewed by many as a litmus test to be used in assessing the quality and hierarchy for teams and leagues in CONCACAF," said Alexi Lalas, commentator for FOX Sports, on its subject. Podcast on the State of the Union ”. “This is a check box that has not been checked in a long time, but it is a necessary check box. It is one less weakness that many other people have to point out and one more hurdle that is overcome in this constant pursuit of credibility and relevance. "
The check box has not been checked. The hurdle remains unresolved.
It does not matter.
First, it feels arbitrary considering DC United won the CONCACAF Champions' Cup in 1998 (before it was renamed and expanded) and the LA Galaxy in 2000. These are trophies that even the league itself ignores.
But if winning the regional championship is supposed to be a milestone in the league's development, does that suggest things got worse in three years after those two titles? To even suggest this would be absurd given the enormous growth in recent years. It's all a very strange way of measuring progress.
Especially when local prospects like Caden Clark of the New York Red Bulls and Brenden Aaronson of the Philadelphia Union are coveted by some of Europe's largest clubs.
Or when Alphonso Davies from Bayern Munich, Weston McKennie from Juventus, Tyler Adams from RB Leipzig, Gio Reyna from Borussia Dortmund - products from Vancouver Whitecaps, FC Dallas, Red Bulls and the NYCFC academies - develop into some of the brightest boys Players in Europe.
Or when figures like visitor numbers and TV ratings before the pandemic show sustainable, long-term growth.
Ultimately, it doesn't matter where MLS stands in relation to Liga MX. Not if it is able to attract Mexican stars like LAFC sensation Carlos Vela or Galaxy bust Javier Hernandez instead of watching them go home. Liga MX is an unusual and islandless league that is usually haunted by chaos and is beyond comparison.
It's not a useful exercise.
How MLS teams assert themselves in elimination tournaments, in knockout games, which usually take place outside the MLS season with poor referees and all kinds of game art and gimmicks, is simply not particularly important for the larger development curve of the 25-year-old. old league. It's a crapshoot, not a metric. MLS is growing significantly and young players are finding an eager market for their talent overseas. These are the things that are important.
Especially when MLS has already conquered the region twice.
LAFC could have put an end to the futility. But it wouldn't have proven anything. Not really. MLS's trajectory is unaffected by a late Andre-Pierre Gignac winner in an empty stadium in Orlando.
Leander Schaerlaeckens is a columnist at Yahoo Sports and a lecturer in sports communications at Marist College. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.
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