MLS must make this necessary change to finally win the CONCACAF Champions League

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For the ‘Caps and MLS, it’s wait ’til next year again. (Reuters)
For the ‘Caps and MLS, it’s wait ’til next year again. (Reuters)

Another year, another CONCACAF Champions League winner from Mexico.

No Major League Soccer team has ever won this iteration of the region’s continental club competition, and that drought will continue after FC Dallas and the Vancouver Whitecaps were knocked out in last week’s semifinals by Liga MX opposition.

Dallas always looked the likelier of the two to break the streak, carrying over a 2-1 lead to the second leg at Pachuca. And the series looked destined for extra time before a stoppage-time goal dribbled past Chris Seitz into the net. Vancouver momentarily put a scare into Tigres via Brek Shea’s third-minute goal at BC Place, but the second half turned into a rout as the visitors cruised to a 4-1 aggregate win.

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The results combined to set up the second consecutive all-Mexican final and the seventh in nine editions under the current format.

There are many reasons for Liga MX’s dominance. The simplest: Its clubs are just better. They have more resources and greater means to invest in them, while MLS teams can be hampered by the league’s Byzantine player acquisition rules. That wealth is best reflected in roster depth, which manifests itself in the second half of second legs during which Mexican clubs so often seem to pull away.

Here’s a kinder reading, at least from an MLS perspective: Its domestic schedule does its teams no favors. The Champions League runs from fall through spring, meaning the knockout rounds are held when Liga MX is peaking while MLS is just starting out. That lack of comparative sharpness is often evident.

Whatever explanation you prefer, MLS’s failure to breakthrough in a competition it obviously prioritizes is an ongoing black eye for the league. The new Champions League format, which will begin with next year’s edition, should help the league’s odds, though. Each of its qualifiers will jump directly into the 16-team knockout stage to kick off next February and bypass the group stage entirely.

But until MLS loosens the purse strings to allow its clubs to invest in roster depth on a similar level to its Mexican opponents, it’s hard to imagine a drastic continental shift in the coming seasons.

ONE TOUCHES

Some other observations from the sixth week of MLS action:

In league play, Toronto vs. Atlanta was the game of the weekend.

United continues to impress early in its inaugural season, and Saturday’s 2-2 draw means it has now taken road points from each of the defending MLS Cup finalists. That both results came without Josef Martinez – the injured, reigning league Player of the Month – makes those results all the more impressive.

There remain open, legitimate questions about Chicago’s Bastian Schweinsteiger signing.

That said, the German has given the Fire a much-needed spark.

His acquisition from Manchester United felt like a relic from a bygone MLS era, a move for off-the-field buzz rather than on-field utility. The World Cup winner was expensive by MLS standards – he signed a one-year contract worth a reported $4.5 million – and seemed like an awkward fit next to already established midfield anchors Juninho and Dax McCarty.

But whether or not he works out in the long run, the current vibe in Bridgeview is as positive as it has been in years. Chicago has now won two matches out of two since adding Schweinsteiger, who scored a goal in his debut and, though he was less influential during Saturday’s 1-0 win over the Columbus Crew, nearly netted another with his diving free kick in the second half.


Wondo the “boogeyman” loves to torment the Sounders.

Seattle looked set to escape San Jose’s Avaya Stadium with a 1-0 victory in the wake of Nicolas Lodeiro’s 84th-minute rocket before an old foe popped up to deny the visitors two points. Chris Wondolowski’s stoppage-time strike was his 11th goal in 19 matches against Seattle, by far the most a single opponent has scored versus the Cascadia club. Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer has referred to the Earthquakes as Seattle’s “boogeyman” team, but he could probably limit that to Wondo himself.


The Goal of the Week goes to …

Nicolas Lodeiro, Seattle Sounders.

The Uruguayan hasn’t been quite as sharp so far in 2017 as he was during Seattle’s title run last fall, but he caught all of this one. And don’t worry about Lodeiro. From a deliberately light offseason to a still-burgeoning chemistry with Clint Dempsey, there are reasons for his relatively slow start.

Matt Pentz covers Major League Soccer for FC Yahoo. Follow him on Twitter @mattpentz.

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