Los Angeles in the SoCal inter-league derby? Nope.
And what do you know? The Goonies died in penalty kicks.
SKC and their 1-0 lead? Expired in minutes, and blown up by the end.
MLS, once again, has seen all of its representatives quickly swept under the rug in the first knockout round of the CONCACAF Champions League. Who cares? Apparently, I'm supposed to. Everyone's supposed to. Remember when we were getting called "un-American" back in 2011 because we weren't falling for that #MLS4RSL bull-honkey?
Yeah, I'm still not falling for the whole 'root for any MLS team that makes it to the final rounds' thing, because it's pretty clear that the way that our league would have to win the CCL would be wholly unimpressive. Some people try to imply that it would be the start of a glorious new age for MLS, and that's why it must happen. I think we all know that's simply not true, and that's why I don't care. When it actually is at a point where it will be really meaningful and an MLS team can go into Mexico, play with style and knock their southern counterparts around to the tune of a CCL victory, there won't be a point to this mindless desperation by the league and its fans any more. So I don't see the point. It's gotten to the point where I almost root for the Mexican teams because it's embarrassing to see MLS fans en masse losing their minds every time anything even remotely positive happens against a Mexican team. (Even third division English teams don't get as excited about going to PKs against an EPL team as some of you guys did when San Jose took Toluca to penalties last night, come on guys.)
Some people even called this year's performance in CCL, which featured one team failing to get out of their group in the first place along with three defeats in the first knock-out round, a step backwards for MLS. Nonsense, I say. There was never a real step forward to then take back. A few minor flukes in previous years don't mean that the fact no such flukes took place this year is a 'step back'. A couple of teams making the semi-finals by default because they were drawn against other MLS teams isn't a step forward, because this entire ordeal is about the fact that MLS teams just can't beat Mexican teams in two-legged affairs.
Let's get one thing out of the way, first: There's no such thing as 'curses'. Winning the CCL will not break some sort of 'curse', because Mexican teams being generally better than MLS teams all around is not a curse. They are better, and getting lucky or playing beat-em-up Quakesball to the point where you pummel your way to a narrow CCL victory isn't going to change that at all. Mexican teams are far more well-built than MLS teams, from top to bottom. On occasion, an MLS team may have a player or two that is better than the players on the Mexican team, but soccer isn't a game where you can bring in a single superstar and hope to win from that. Right, Seattle? Arsenal?
Ben covered this quite well with a post he made a good, long while back called Why MLS will never win CONCACAF. Simply put, the way that MLS spends their money makes it hard to build a team with truly good depth, and Mexican teams will always win out in terms of team building because of that. Until that changes, I can't get excited over an MLS team winning CONCACAF, because I know it will be a fluke. MLS had their best make it one time, back in 2011. That RSL team was one of the greatest teams in MLS history, and what was their journey, still noted as the best an MLS team has ever offered in that competition? They got an MLS team and a Costa Rican team on the way to the final, and then barely scraped out a draw in Mexico before losing at home to... you know who. (While we're here, I might as well leave this lovely little piece by Ben as well.)
All of this happens with MLS rescheduling games as often as they can to get their CCL teams the most rest possible before their ties, as well. Remember, the Rapids originally had San Jose on the schedule in Week 1 before MLS yanked the rug out for San Jose's CCL drive. And I shouldn't need to remind you that MLS went to farcical lengths to rearrange games for RSL back in 2011 so that they would have a full week of rest at a time between games on their way to the final.
So, a scenario. Let's say that the CCL gets won by an MLS team some time soon. Let's say that the Quakes or SKC or something manage to rumble their way into the CCL again and this time, they manage to beat the crap out of a now mid-table Mexican team (technically, Xolos are mid-table right now! You know, the guys who smoked MLS' best team the other day?) and get into the final, where they're lucky enough to get a draw on the road and then win 1-0 or something at home to take home the trophy.
Or maybe they get lucky like RSL did back in 2011 and they manage to avoid facing a Mexican team at all until the final. Those are really the only two ways that we're going to see an MLS team win it right now, and we all know it. Never has a team entered the CCL from MLS as the favorites to win the whole thing. We've never even had a team in the Top 3 favorites to win it. The best we've come is trying to figure out 'which team this year is best qualified to beat a Mexican team, possibly'. This year, by the way, that team seemed to be Sporting Kansas City, who got embarrassed by Cruz Azul.
An MLS team won't be favorites to win it next year, either. Or the year after that. But what if our theoretical MLS team wins the whole shebang? Nope, they still won't be favorites the year after that. Oddsmakers and pundits aren't stupid. Even if an MLS team manages to surprise the world and win a final, it would just be an anomaly, and everyone knows it. It would be Wigan lifting the cup over Man City. They're still going to make City the favorites next time around. MLS' profile as a whole won't raise any more than Wigan's did after that Cup win.
So what's the end game for that? Such desperation to win the CCL, and for what? Will MLS fans still be clutching to that single CCL victory when Mexican teams win the next five CCLs after that one? Where does the league's profile being boosted to new heights come in when they win in a fluke and then sink right back down? Are there still people who believe that finishing 4th in the Club World Cup is the next big step for MLS? There's absolutely no point to supporting an #MLS4___ campaign, and there never was.
Please note that this is not some sort of 'call to action' for MLS to make sweeping changes so that we can get CCL trophies into our cabinets immediately. In fact, it's quite the opposite. I've always been the type to watch the forest as a whole rather than just the individual trees, and there will come a point where MLS has improved enough all on its own to face the dreaded Mexican teams. All of this screaming tends to be from the same people who always crow about how MLS might be growing, but just isn't growing fast enough for them. "We want Pro/Rel NOW!" "We want salary caps in the tens and hundreds of millions NOW!" They'll never shut up, but there's no reason that smart fans should be dragged down with them. Patience is a virtue, and it will eventually lift MLS quality to a point where we're generally level with our southern neighbors.
Their league isn't growing at the rate ours is. Our salary cap will continue to increase, our overall player salaries will go up, and the depth of our teams will get better as that happens and our academies start producing top-level players more often. It will take time, as all these things do, but we've been on an upward trajectory for half a decade now that doesn't look like it's going to slow any time soon. In a year, there will be two new teams and even more money coming into the league. A few years after that, the league will have a much higher TV deal, even more teams, and a new CBA that will probably change the money game in the league in terms of player salaries.
There will come a time when MLS has the quality and talent base to take on Mexican teams and not just best them, but not surprise the entire world by doing so. We'll see not just MLS teams in the CCL, but finals featuring more than one MLS team. The playing field will indeed be level between us and those mean ol' Mexicans. And most importantly, we can all start rooting for our own goddamn teams again.
When that time comes, we're all going to look back at the hilarious desperation that some MLS fans had back in the early 2010's when it came to the competition and the rest of us are going to laugh.