The Last Hope For MLS in the CONCACAF Champions League

MLS needs to start the season earlier if it is to be competitive internationally
by Robert Mera   |   Monday, March 16, 2015

Major League Soccer (MLS) 2012 Season Preview

All of MLS is cheering for Montreal in the Champions League after DC United’s exit. They have, admittedly, one of the weaker sides in the league at the moment due to injuries. They got through Pachuca with pure grit. Will they have the same resolve against an Alajuelense squad that already defeated an MLS side in DC United? Why does MLS struggle so much in the Champions League playoffs?

It was a cold, soggy night at RFK Stadium last Wednesday. The rain would turn to snow later that evening. DC United needed to score three unanswered goals that evening to counteract a 5-2 defeat to Alajuelense in Costa Rica the previous week. They won 2-1, not nearly enough. Perhaps that night’s weather could serve as a metaphor for their post-season campaign in the Concacaf Champions League.

DC United played well for long stretches of the match. They outplayed their Costa Rican counterparts for the majority of the game. But Alajuelense had the upper hand in the global scoreboard, and, to some extent, in the stands.

Where I was sitting in the stadium it felt more like a home match for Alajuelense. The DCU faithful around me were quiet for most of the match, and especially somber after the tying goal by the Costa Rican squad.

Fan attendance aside, the bigger loss for the team and league here was to post another loss for MLS in the international landscape. DCU, like Montreal, was running on very little depth due to injuries. That, compounded with virtually zero mental and physical fitness for a competitive match, was what doomed the team to a loss.

Let's step back for a moment. What if MLS started its season a month earlier? The Champions League games would come two or three matches into the season. Not optimal conditions but still better than zero. Right now these international games feel more like preseason games to both players and many in the public.

It isn’t far-fetched at all to think that MLS games can be scheduled in warmer or less snow-prone climates during the month of February, or perhaps hold them indoors, as Montreal has done. Let’s also remember that we, as fans, are not alone in this. Coaches Bruce Arena and Jurguen Klinsmann have voiced their desire to have the league make such a move. For Arena it would mean fewer games bunched up later in the season. For Klinsmann it would mean better form heading into January and February international matches.

With more teams entering MLS and an expected total number at 24, a longer schedule just makes more sense. We will not only enjoy more soccer. We will also enjoy our teams performing better on the international landscape.

Robert MERA

Nationality:
USA
College:
NC State
Club Domestic:
PTFC, DC United
Club Foreign:
Emelec (ECU)
Robert is a climate scientist by day and soccer columnist by night (and weekends). He covers all things DC United, from player development to international tournaments.
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