Nearly 30 years in Major League Soccer it’s still an idea as much as it’s a league.

The United States and Canada’s premier competition is a relative infant on the global stage, at least a decade younger than other leagues around the world. As it continues to grow — and it has undeniably grown — the league’s boosters measure its progress in metrics that often feel nebulous. They talk about MLS being a “league of choice” without ever explicitly defining what that means, or trumpeting the league’s rapid expansion without mentioning that most of the league’s teams still lose money and struggle to gain national traction, let alone more globally.

The opportunities for MLS to measure up to global competition are golden, and this week’s CONCACAF Champions Cup quarterfinals could be MLS’s biggest yet. They present a crucial test for two of the league’s top franchises and a chance for the league to demonstrate its growth where it matters: in results, in games that matter, against teams considered to be among the region’s giants.

If an MLS team makes it through this stage and wins the competition, the reward would be even sweeter: A chance to face the world’s best teams on home soil.

go deeper


MLS’s 12 most talked about youth players in the GA Cup

On Tuesday, Columbus Crew SC will face Monterrey-based Liga MX side Tigres at the Estadio Universitario. Columbus, defending MLS Cup champions and the league’s most aesthetic squad, is also led by perhaps the most promising new coach, Wilfried Nancy. The Crew is the most balanced example of team building in MLS today; the club buys good players from within the league, develops their own through their academy and is willing to spend on difference makers such as strikers Cucho Hernandez AND Diego Rossi.

Across town the next evening, Lionel MessiS ‘ Inter Miami will face CF Monterrey. Despite some shortcomings on the pitch, Miami has quickly become the highest-profile club in MLS history thanks not only to Messi, but a trio of other world stars who have joined him in Flordia – Sergio Busquets, Jordi Alba AND Luis Suarez. He stands as an example of a different, much rarer kind of success in MLS: attracting big stars at the end of their careers and building a team around their atmosphere and expertise.

MLS teams are entering their respective return games with a lot of work to do. Columbus held their own in a 1-1 draw against Tigres last week but face a tall task to beat the Liga MX Clausura 2023 champions in Mexico. Miami fared even worse against Monterrey, giving up two goals at home en route to a 2-1 home loss. History will not be on the side of MLS teams – the league has produced three finalists and one champion in the last 15 years of the tournament. Monterrey and Tigres alone have made a combined eight finals in that span, with Monterrey winning five of them and Tigres winning one.

go deeper


MLS relations: El Trafico, El Promisico, inflated bullets and lots of popcorn

It feels like a very realistic possibility that both teams could be eliminated, leaving MLS without a single team in the tournament semifinals (MLS’s other entrant, The New England Revolutionwere beaten 4-0 at home by Club América, making a return to Azteca unlikely anyway).

However, there is the possibility of a twist, and there is spice to go with it. After the first match, Messi RECITED joined a handful of teammates and Miami coach Tata Martino in confronting the game officials in the tunnel. Messi also reportedly took exception to comments made by Monterrey coach Fernando Ortiz, who suggested that MLS, and Messi in particular, would receive favorable treatment from officials, a common talking point over the years that led to a shouting match outside. Monterrey’s locker room at Chase Stadium.

Things were further heated when audio of Monterrey assistant coach Nico Sanchez was released late last week in which he referred to Messi as a “possessed dwarf” with the “face of the devil”. Sanchez went on to offer some choice words for Martino as well. He has since issued a public apology.

go deeper


Messi scores 12 minutes after returning from a thigh injury in Inter Miami’s draw

Messi went 45 minutes and scored a goal in the 2-2 draw against Miami Colorado Rapids this weekend and looks almost certain to start on Wednesday. It raises the stakes already massive for Inter Miami, for whom the quarter-final is the next step in the ownership’s vision for the club as a global brand. Martino has openly stated that the CCC is his team’s top priority for 2024, more important than the MLS Cup. That’s because victory will earn the club a place in the FIFA Club World Cup, which will be played next year in the United States.

That tournament offers MLS something truly rare: a chance to compete against the biggest clubs in the world. It’s an opportunity the league has only been given once, when Seattle Sounders FC became the first MLS club in league history to appear in the tournament.

Seattle’s CCC title — the first by an MLS team in the tournament’s modern history — was heralded by many league and club executives as the dawn of a new era in which MLS had finally cracked the decades-long continental dominance of Mexican clubs. . Indeed, this was far from the case. Seattle’s road to the Finals was easy, and it takes a lot more than a title to erase years and years of history. MLS returns to its lost ways in 2023. This year, two of the league’s best teams, Philadelphia Union and the New England Revolution, were completely dismantled by the Mexican clubs.

“It would help if they didn’t put the tournament down to start the season,” Porter said after the Revolution’s 4-0 loss at the hands of America. “We’re going to play a game every three days when we’re not fully fit and in shape, and we don’t have the roster … (They fielded) basically 11 (designated players) … You saw, they brought guys off the bench that were DP in MLS…You’re playing a team that can basically manage the window much better than us.”

Porter’s remarks echo a common refrain from MLS coaches, and there’s some truth to it — Mexican teams don’t have to deal with the spending restrictions that MLS places on its teams, and Liga MX teams are on their way. theirs during the tournament, not at the start. – the form of the season. But the reality of the situation is not going to change anytime soon. If MLS intends to compete globally, the league must find a way to be more competitive in continental competition, or at least reduce the effect of these disadvantages.

There is such a thing as a backup plan. If Miami and Columbus are eliminated this week, MLS officials will quickly return to the Leagues Cup — the joint venture of MLS and Liga MX that pits all of the league’s teams against each other in a midseason tournament. Last year’s newly expanded edition was largely a success, in no small part due to Messi’s performance in his introduction to the league. But the tournament is also heavily skewed in favor of MLS, with every game played in the United States. It feels brand new, more than a little synthetic and largely irrelevant on the global stage – winning the competition gets a team into the Champions Cup where they’ll go on to play regional competition.

Even the league leaders themselves understand that league fans prioritize the CCC over the League Cup; Their market research has shown that MLS fans put much more stock in the tournament than its younger, younger sibling.

The Champions Cup – despite the fact that there have been several different formats and almost as many names – is steeped in history, with competitive stakes and genuine respect. The setbacks from Columbus and Miami won’t have any long-term effect on the league’s business model, or its perception among casual fans in the United States. However, for those who have been paying attention, another CCC flameout will be another reason to take a look at claims that Major League Soccer is well on its way to becoming a “league of choice.” whatever that means.

(Feature photos: Getty Images)

Source link


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here