Europe Beats MLS Once Again, and It's a Good Thing

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Europe Beats MLS Once Again, and It's a Good Thing
(Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

It's becoming an annual tradition for top European sides to make their way to American soil in the mid-to-late summer months and take on MLS sides in pre-season friendlies.

Wait, strike that.

Did I say take on? I meant maul. Obliterate. Vaporize. Annihilate. Defenestrate.

Those are all more colorful and more accurate terms for what squads like Barcelona and Real Madrid have been doing to MLS squads in recent years.

Some of the football on display has been beautiful. As an MLS fan, it's been both exciting and painful to watch at the same time, sort of like screening "Die Hard" whilst being punched in the face.

Are these friendlies actually accomplishing anything beyond stoking the egos of European stars? Is the additional revenue that MLS clubs gain from these matches worth the psychological blow dealt by a four-goal defeat?

While the constant beatings might be discouraging to some MLS fans, these matches will prove to be a very good thing in the long run.

We all used to beat up on our younger siblings, and that's exactly what's happening here. Eventually, like our younger brothers and sisters, MLS clubs are going to learn how to carry themselves and discover a few tricks that make them more competitive.

While they might never win all the fights, they'll eventually be capable of pulling off a surprise or two.

If you've been watching closely, you can already see the seeds of this transformation being planted. It's a quick learning process with some of these guys.

This learning curve was on display tonight in the match between Toronto FC and Real Madrid. Los Merengues were carving up TFC in the first half and looked to be well on their way to scoring seven or eight goals.

The passing was crisp, the tackles were strong and precise, and the players were working well together.

It was the antithesis of what Toronto was doing, at least in the first half.

When TFC came out after the halftime orange slices, they were a different team. They were still outclassed by a mile, but they were taking a little more time with possession and were connecting on a greater percentage of their passes. In short, it looked like they were imitating their decorated rivals.

It's not hard to imagine manager Chris Cummins looking at his club during halftime and shouting, "Try to play a little bit more like them!"

Seattle has endured a couple of valuable learning experiences this summer. They lost 2-0 to Chelsea in a very closely contested match and 4-0 to Barcelona in a complete blowout.

But, with these experiences under their belt and a savvy European vet in Freddie Ljungberg to guide their young talent, you can bank on Seattle taking these experiences to heart and becoming a better football team.

Ditto for Los Angeles, who has faced AC Milan and Barcelona in recent weeks. Don't you think that those matches will help the team improve just in time for the run up to the playoffs?

That's just smart scheduling on LA's part.

Some might argue that cramming these friendlies into the middle of the MLS season might cause unnecessary wear and tear on the athletes, but that's just a minor concern. The first-string guys will play for 45 minutes and then the infrequently used reserves get their chance.

It's win-win for everybody with that arrangement. The top guys get 45 minutes of competition against some of the best footballers in the world without getting too fatigued.

The reserves get 45 minutes of action against the understudies to the best players in the world, which is far more experience than they get sitting on the bench each week.

To frame it in another light, think of these friendlies as watered-down international duty. Most players will find that their skills are heightened after a stint with their national team, especially if they're still evolving as players.

It's why Brazil took Ronaldo to the 1994 World Cup, and England took Theo Walcott in 2006. They were building for the future.

These MLS squads are taking their lumps now in the hopes that they will be better clubs in the future. These European friendlies aren't just a great marketing strategy, they're a great footballing strategy.

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