MLS, Copa Libertadores Not Quite a Match, Yet

T SaadiQ KamaliCorrespondent IFebruary 10, 2009

With the Houston Dynamo from Major League Soccer and the Montreal Impact, a club from a country that has no major domestic league (Canada), the CONCACAF Champions League is showing that it is the second weakest of all regional championship qualifiers for the 2009 FIFA Club World Cup in Dubai (OCEANIA being the weakest).

While MLS has steadily improved its on-field performance at home in the U.S., the league continues to struggle internationally. But despite the results, it’s fair to say that one of the league’s main objectives is to join the second most prestigious club competition in the world—South America’s Copa Libertadores.

But does MLS deserve it?

Imagine seeing the Houston Dynamo, D.C. United, or Chicago Fire squad playing meaningful ties against such storied clubs as Boca Juniors, Flamengo, or Santos. Not only would fans have the opportunity to see such dramatic fixtures at home, but the experience for teams to travel throughout South America to face quality opposition would provide invaluable experience.

However, what is good for the U.S. is not necessarily good for the rest of the world.

It’s unlikely that teams from South America will consider flying 13 hours for a mid-week tie against Real Salt Lake in the middle of a frigid January winter. Also, considering how some clubs in MLS struggle to fill seats during the regular season, it’s hard to imagine fans coming in droves to see a mid-tier team like Cuenca in the snow.

If MLS really wants to have its teams compete in South America, the perfect option for the moment would be the Copa Sudamericana, CONMEBOL’s equivalent to the UEFA Cup. Not only do you get to see some of same big name clubs as in the Copa Libertadores, but the greatest advantage will be that MLS clubs will be in mid-season form.

Clearly the league is desperate to raise its image worldwide from one of contempt and indifference to acceptance and respect. But a move too soon into the Copa might not be the best way to go about it.

Though it improves year by year, MLS needs to compete in its own region on a yearly basis before it can hope to take on the rigors of South American football.