Every year, when the season is about to begin, MLS clubs, fans and pundits all say “is this the year we beat Liga MX?” They are talking about the CONCACAF Champions League (CCL). CONCACAF is the North American soccer federation in charge of organizing international tournaments . Since the CCL changed its format in the 2008-2009 season, a Liga MX club has won every year. This year, it appears that the champion of the CCL will be another Liga MX club.
How close has MLS come to winning it? An MLS club has reached the final on four occasions. Real Salt Lake would be the first in 2011 before falling to CF Monterrey. Montreal Impact reached in 2015 but fell to Club America. Toronto FC reached in 2018 against CD Guadalajara (Chivas). Finally, LAFC reached last year against Tigres. Toronto FC was the closest to victory as they went to penalties against Chivas but came up short. LAFC led Tigres 1-0 after a goal from Diego Rossi in the 60th minute but conceded twice in the final 20 minutes to lose. Real Salt Lake and Montreal Impact both managed draws in the first legs in their opponents’ stadiums before falling at home.
CCL and Leagues Cup 2021
This year is unlikely to prove fruitful for the American league either. MLS only has one representative in the semifinals and currently are probable to be eliminated. The Philadelphia Union lost 2-0 at Club America in the first leg last week. The 2021 CCL started off well for MLS. They had five teams in the 16 team knockout competition and all five won their first round match-ups which included a victory over a Liga MX club. They now had five of the eight quarterfinalists which would mean there would be at least one MLS vs MLS matchup and the rest would be Liga MX vs MLS. The Liga MX teams won all three of those match-ups and fairly comfortably.
Leagues Cup is another competition between the two leagues which pits four teams from each league in a one game knockout with all games played in the MLS participants’ home stadiums. There was hope that MLS would have the advantage in this competition since they are in mid-season and Liga MX has just started. That wouldn’t be the case in the 2021 version of this Cup. The first night, Leon bludgeoned Sporting Kansas City 6-1, and then Seattle smashed Tigres 3-0. The next night, Pumas knocked out NYCFC in penalties after a 1-1 draw and the final night ended with Santos Laguna defeating Orlando City 1-0. Like the CCL, Liga MX has three out of four semifinalists.
What is preventing MLS from finally winning the CCL?
There are a host of reasons suggested for why the MLS hasn’t won the CCL from the league, clubs, pundits and fan alike. The schedule is the first reason given. The CCL typically starts in mid to late February with the Round of 16. Liga MX and Central American leagues typically have been playing since the beginning of January while MLS is just getting started or is still even in pre-season. This, according to people involved in MLS, is the biggest reason why they haven’t won it. The league and front offices of teams lament the travel. It’s interesting that the league and teams use the travel excuse when the opposing teams also face the same travel. Fans will say that the low salary cap hurts them and that being able to spend more would help with depth.
What is the verdict?
Recently, Alan Pulido of Sporting Kansas City and Mexican National Team had an interesting comment. He said that Liga MX teams play more technical and organized while MLS teams play more aggressive. He may have a point and it could be the deciding factor in these match-ups. Liga MX clubs are great at managing the game. The depth of the Liga MX squads definitely helps. The three Liga MX clubs left in CCL boast starting caliber players that are on their benches. There seems to be a mental hurdle for MLS clubs and a need a change in mentality. Liga MX teams go into these competitions expecting to win and not making any excuses for losing. The front offices of the league and franchises in MLS make excuses for losing before the game is even played.
At the end of the day, if MLS wants one of their teams to win the CCL they need to make changes. They can’t expect to do the same things and expect different results after more than a decade. Isn’t that the definition of insanity? If not, Liga MX is likely to continue to dominate and bring home another title this year.
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