MLS

What Will Be Considered a Success for MLS Teams in CONCACAF Champions League?

Mar 12, 2014; Carson, CA, USA; Los Angeles Galaxy forward Samuel (9) celebrates with midfielder Juninho (19) after scoring a goal in the first half in Champions League match against Club Tijuana at StubHub Center. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Joe TanseyFeatured ColumnistMarch 14, 2014

After play in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals, three clubs from Major Soccer League are still in contention for a spot in the semifinals. 

The San Jose Earthquakes received a last-gasp goal from Alan Gordon at home to head into the second leg with Toluca tied at 1-1. 

Sporting Kansas City and the LA Galaxy both won 1-0 at home over Mexican opposition, but they both have plenty of work left to do south of the border next week. 

Mar 12, 2014; Kansas City, KS, USA; Sporting KC defender Kevin Ellis (4) celebrates after scoring a goal against Cruz Azul in the first half. Mandatory Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports
John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

It is likely that at least one of these three clubs will advance into the semifinal round, but will reaching the semis be deemed a success for the league that is still looking for a breakthrough on the continental stage?

In the five years of the CONCACAF Champions League format, only one MLS side has reached the final. Real Salt Lake progressed that far in 2011 and fell a goal short against Monterrey, which has won the last three Champions League titles. 

Last season, LA and the Seattle Sounders reached the semifinal round before being knocked out by Monterrey and Santos Laguna, respectively. 

Everyone around the league knows that the quality in MLS has gone up in recent years, but that sentiment has not been reflected on the continental stage as of yet. 

Sporting and LA have the best chances of reaching the final and breaking the two-year Mexican deadlock on the title. 

Nothing against San Jose here, but both Sporting and LA have rosters that are built to play in multiple competitions without costing the team points in the MLS regular season. 

Both sides are also not facing an opponent that earned a valuable away goal in the first leg like Toluca did at Buck Shaw Stadium on Tuesday. 

Mar 11, 2014; Santa Clara, Californial, USA; San Jose Earthquakes midfielder Shea Salinas (6) passes the ball up field past Toluca FC midfielder Diego de la Torre (8) during the second half at Buck Shaw Stadium. The San Jose Earthquakes and Toluca FC tied
Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

If San Jose were to reverse its away-goal deficit, it would not face Mexican opposition, which could play into its favor. 

The other good news is that MLS-killers Monterrey and Santos Laguna are nowhere to be found this time around, which means the door is wide open for an MLS side to claim the throne. 

If Sporting and LA were to come out on top in the second leg, they would play each other in a semifinal that would guarantee a finalist from MLS, but that may not be good enough given the standard of play in the league nowadays. 

The only way for MLS to be taken seriously by the teams in the southern part of the continent is to win the whole thing and earn a spot at the Club World Cup. 

This is something that can be attained this season regardless of who the opposition is because the two teams with the best chance to win it all have a ton of quality. 

Sporting, the defending MLS Cup champion, has been built for multiple competitions by manager Peter Vermes, while LA has a plethora of players to choose from as well for games in both competitions. 

Also, the stars of both teams have come alive in the knockout round and are taking the competition very seriously. Just look at the night Landon Donovan had on Wednesday. 

Mar 8, 2014; Carson, CA, USA; Los Angeles Galaxy midfielder Landon Donovan (10) takes a corner kick in the second half against the Real Salt Lake at StubHub Center. Real Salt Lake defeated the Los Angeles Galaxy 1-0. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Fielding-USA
Andrew Fielding-USA TODAY Sports

With all that being said, winning the whole thing does matter this year more than others because of the recent influx of talent into the league. 

Winning the CONCACAF Champions League and defeating Mexican opposition on the way to the title would show that the United States rules the rivalry with Mexico on the club level like it already does on the international stage. 

The perfect opportunity is in front of the three remaining clubs, but now they all have to realize that and take full advantage of the situation.

That process begins with scoring some away goals in Mexico next week to set up two potential MLS-dominated semifinals. 

 

Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90. 

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