Yeah, I said it. I watched the games, both legs, of the Seattle Sounders versus Santos Laguna. I watched both legs of Los Angeles against Monterrey. I'm going to make this very quick. I'm not going to hem and haw over it. Agonize over the heroism, grit, and heart displayed or how bitterly disappointed I am with the results. Because, frankly, I'm not agonized over it. I'm not disappointed by the results. And, as a Rapids fan, I can't do anything but love Herculez Gomez.
Mostly because he scored the opening goal at Dick's Sporting Goods Park on my birthday.
LEGEND. (I think his picture actually hangs in the trophy room of DSG)
I'm going to touch on this massive trolling of Herc as well, because it shows something that I think is important to realize about the rivalry between MLS and Liga MX. One, that there is a rivalry between MLS and Liga MX, and two, MLS has a deep and possibly unconscious inferiority complex when it comes to Liga MX. That is: we want to puff up our chests and say that we have the better league, that somehow our rules are better and our methods are better and we're just the best in the region.
And yet, we're not. Clearly, we're not. We don't get slaughtered, that's true. But I haven't seen a lot of guys getting slaughtered when it comes to the CCL. All the teams are "good". But Liga MX teams are simply "better". Even our "big clubs" keep getting close and then falling short. MLS has to recognize this, at some point. CCL results speak for themselves. And frankly, there's no one to blame but ourselves.
The massive trolling of Herc was, at best for me, uncomfortable. Because it was touching on, but not dealing with, the real problem. Also the "well, Humberto Suazo was just about going to be in MLS" thing. (one, because how dare you play with Rapids' fans hearts like that, and two because of the issue at hand), it's the same thing. This isn't about individual players. This isn't a "if only we had Herc and Suazo in OUR league" problem. No. The elephant in the room is the big problem. The real problem is that MLS has an inferior on field product to Liga MX. And I don't think it's completely a talent issue. At least, that's not how it looks.
I think it has to do with two things: one, the product on field of MLS is far too brutal and physical to deal properly with the product of the better Liga MX teams. This is where I go off on teams like the San Jose Earthquakes and the Vancouver Whitecaps (and the 2010 Colorado Rapids) who brutalize, play tough, and bully their opponents off the field. This works in MLS, and it gets results, but it does not get results in CONCACAF. While having grit and physicality is an important part of what gives you an edge, if that's everything you've got going for you--you're going to be sorely disappointed.
We whine about diving, and yes, it's cheating. But what diving teaches us is that our players aren't technical enough, not smooth enough in the tackle. An amateurish diver, a clown and soccer sociopath like Steven Lenhart is one thing, but other guys like Alvaro Saborio or Juninho? These guys are not cynical, but clinical. They are skilled players who make a meal of whatever contact you give them. Whereas Lenhart is there to bring down the whole league, Saborio and Juninho are guys who make you smarter as a defender. These guys are masters of the dark arts, which comes from actually being good players--talented players.
It's not about talent. In MLS, the talent is there, it's about how the talent is being used. In LigaMX, they coach a more technical product and that product is rewarded with trophies. In MLS, they coach a more physical product and that product is rewarded with trophies. And we can chalk that up to "well, Americans like a more physical product because we're not pansies."
Wrong. I don't buy that line for a second. Americans like winning. Everyone likes winning. And whether you play a silky smooth passing game or a rough and tumble foul fest game, Americans care about the result just like everyone else.
MLS is getting better. It's true, at least in the on-field product. But we're not there yet. And until we are, the league will never have a regional champion.
We have to make something of the Salary Cap as well. Liga MX teams are simply deeper than MLS teams. Period. They can spread the money around their clubs as opposed to having to, as a rule, shore up their major investments in DP's. The DP rule, while it's brought in some exciting talent, I think is misguided. Depth is always going to be a problem as long as owners are incentivized to invest their large amounts in a few players rather than investing in the "whole squad". Teams like LA or New York, with ownership who can't (and are encouraged to) spend enough money will be able to build big squads, but what about the little guys? Guys like Salt Lake, or Colorado, or Dallas? What about Columbus? Or Philly? Or Houston?
Sure, they've got talent, but the teams can only afford to be so deep. How talented is the third string? San Jose certainly made a lot with a little last year, but can we really expect miracles like that all the time? Especially on the international level, with teams that are deeper than any MLS club can afford to be within our own rules?
Let me tell you the hard truth: MLS does not care about the CCL at the expense of their own league rules.
The fact is this: MLS says it prioritizes the CCL. Sure. But the CCL is a "nice to have" and not a "needs to have".
We want to be validated for our system. We want to prove that we're doing it right, and that we, in spite of or maybe because of, the way we do things in MLS are creating a system capable of producing regionally recognized champions. And while we're willing to bend the rules to give some of our clubs involved with the CCL a break, it's all reactive. If you want to build a team capable of winning the CCL, you start years before. You don't just one year get a break and say "Ah yeah, now it's time to win the CCL!" No. It's not that easy. You don't just need to be "proactive" in this regard, you need to be aggressive.
You want MLS to start producing regional champions? You dispense with this "clubs who make the CCL get a break" nonsense and give those advantages to all clubs regardless of whether they qualify for the CCL. Every year. Let the clubs build the way clubs are meant to build. Let them count on those rules. Look at teams who win the CCL and make sure that your clubs have the resources they need to compete with those clubs. Don't hamstring them for most of the time and then suddenly inject them with extra resources. That's ridiculous. It's taking away an edge.
This is not saying LigaMX is without its problems. There are places where MLS is clearly better than LigaMX. I definitely feel that MLS is better at basic things like: your paycheck arrives on time regardless of which club you play for. That kind of basic contract fulfillment is a crucial thing.
But here, at least, we have an opportunity to put our money where our mouth is. So how about it, Don?
Finally, I have to talk about El Chelis and why I think his presence here his awesome and his success with Chivas USA is so crucial.
We don't have a lot of crossover between LigaMX and MLS. Not many coaches going down there nor many of their coaches coming up here. Not a lot of movement within CONCACAF between coaches. Why so insular? UEFA has movement all the time. If you're a good coach, chances are someone in a big league is going to want to talk to you. And you're expected to do well. MLS, if it has any residual insularity, needs to rid itself of it. If you're a good coach anywhere in CONCACAF, MLS clubs should be ringing you up.
El Chelis is a case in point, a good coach in Liga MX is now doing surprisingly well at Chivas USA. And that's just it: There's no reason he shouldn't do well. He's a good coach. There's no difference, fundamentally, between a good coach from LigaMX and a good coach from MLS. The more movement we have between the leagues, from both players and coaches, can only improve both, and I feel especially benefits MLS. Open this region up.
Tear down this wall.
The solution to our almost-but-not-quite performances in CONCACAF from our "big clubs" is more openness, not more insularity. Less beating our own chest, lambasting our competition for being diving cheats, and taking our toys and going home. The solution is to open this entire region up more.
The fans are turning around to the CCL. We're setting our sights and our dreams on it. We don't just want the MLS Cup anymore. We don't just want the Shield. We don't just want the Open Cup. We are setting our sights on the real prize: the regional title, the CONCACAF Champion's League. And as the hopes of the American soccer fan turn, so too must MLS turn. For what is MLS but a dream of the American soccer fan?