Friday, March 21, 2014

MLS sides improve internationally despite latest setback

Latest, stinging defeats will serve a purpose, provide experience

There won't be any cheerleading here after the latest debacle this week following Major League Soccer's elimination of its last three contending sides in CONCACAF's Champions League play.

However, can we take a breather and a step back to recall just a few short years ago the comedic displays the league endured against Mexican teams that looked little interested when the region's continental format was renovated to rival that of its UEFA Champions League and CONMEBOL's Copa Libertadores cousins?

It's been reiterated here and in other sites and blogs that the league is growing by leaps and bounds, yes. Its growth in such a short time is to be commended and supporters of this league--including us here--continue to believe that going forward, MLS competition is advancing at a rapid pace, more so than expected.

But, understandably, fans, skeptics and the Don (that is, commissioner Don Garber) continue to be baffled, frustrated and disillusioned at MLS' play in international competition. On the other hand, international level is not only a step up, it's a giant leap into competitiveness that most players in the growing league aren't too accustomed to just yet. Landon Donovan is. Robbie Keane is. Graham Zusi is.

The majority need more of this week's games under their belt. It's a different scene in Tijuana, San Jose and Panama City than northern California and Utah. The hostilities, rapid pace of play and mind games are just some factors to endure but the experience is worth it all.

Mexican sides are justifiably arrogant when partaking in competition against their MLS brethren. And why shouldn't they be? They're a rich league, save for a few deadbeat clubs, have a history of good overall football in its structure and develop class players; only Brazil and Argentina can match what Mexico's league displays if it boils down to pay and competition. 

But the gap between Mexico and U.S. leagues' play can't last forever. Sure, the salary cap here constrains depth a bit, the scheduling of these tournament stages are a bit stagnant and, yes, maybe sometimes luck plays a dirty trick on us. So what's the point here? MLS sides can compete on an international level although the scorelines don't reflect that yet. Some pieces of the puzzle have yet to be completed. It's only a while back that Mexico's sides were toying with MLS sides in previous Champions League versions, sending out reserves and more interested in competing in Libertadores.

Football is cyclical. Football provides payback. Football gives hope.

Just ask the 2002 U.S. national World Cup team.

-Tio Pelotas