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One theory for MLS failures in Champions League

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A few years ago I wrote critically and frequently about Major League Soccer’s chief flaw on the field. That is, the faulty element most guilty of holding back the league from achieving better quality between the white lines (i.e., MLS imperfection on the field, not in marketing matters).

It was simply that too many matches didn’t matter. When 80 percent or 60 percent of teams make the playoffs (MLS first decade or so), every single match simply was not important enough. That tolerance for imperfection infected everything, from daily practices to match-day management. Mistakes weren’t punished sufficiently, so the drive to improve individually and collectively suffered.

It’s gotten better, of course, but the math still works in opposition to genuine, night-in, night-out, down and dirty competitiveness. Simply put, each individual match does not drip with the weight of importance as it should.

Making the playoffs is still the brick and mortar of Major League Soccer from a competitive standpoint. And more than half the teams still qualify (10 of 19). So there is still not enough “gotta have it” for each contest.

The basic league structure is just too forgiving in terms of individual match importance; too many contests cannot be earnestly stamped “Code Red Critical!”

When MLS teams get themselves into Champions League seriousness, they aren’t quite equipped to deal tactically, emotionally or intelligently when it comes to one match (or a pair of them) that simply must be had.

We saw it twice last week, as Seattle couldn’t properly manage a home match against Santos Laguna. Left in a 1-0 hole, last night’s 1-1 draw in Mexico was insufficient.  Santos advances into the CONCACAF Champions League final; MLS misses another chance.

The LA Galaxy conceded two goals late against Monterrey, and the chances of something heroic tonight in Mexico do not look good. At all.

Quality depth in the rosters (better on the Mexican side) has a lot to say about this ongoing imbalance, as Mexican sides continue to dominate the regional tourney.

But the lenient playoff qualification standards still hinder MLS progress. We saw it last year as clubs that finished fourth and fifth in their conferences made the MLS Cup final. LA was about as bad it could be in March, April and May … and still won the championship.

When a smaller percentage still of Major League Soccer teams make the playoffs, every match will ring the bell of importance. Organizations and individuals will know that a match in April, May, June, etc. should carry all the serious weight of a stretch-run contest in September. Only then will the best practices of approaching a match and managing out matches become muscle memory for MLS players, coaches and clubs.

Until then, well, we’ll just have to enjoy a few more all-Liga MX CONCACAF Champions League finals.

UCL FOLLOW LIVE: Lineups as Atleti looks to advance past Bayern

MADRID, SPAIN - APRIL 27:  UEFA  Champions League trophy is seen ahead of the UEFA Champions League semi final first leg match between Club Atletico de Madrid and FC Bayern Muenchen at Vincente Calderon on April 27, 2016 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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Atletico Madrid heads into the Allianz Arena’s hornets’ nest with a 1-0 advantage and hopes for another UEFA Champions League final.

Diego Simeone’s La Liga powers will look to keep its advantage over Bayern Munich, in turn booting Pep Guardiola into Manchester without a UCL title in Germany.

To follow live, click here.

LINEUPS

Bayern Munich: Neuer; Alaba, Boateng, Martinez, Ribéry, Lewandowski, Costa, Alonso, Lahm, Vidal, Müller. Subs: Ulreich, Tasci, Thiago, Rafinha, Götze, Coman, Kimmich.

Atletico Madrid: Oblak, Juanfran, Godin, Gimenez, Luis; Gabi, Augusto, Koke, Saul; Griezmann, Torres. Subs: Moya, Savic, Lucas, Thomas, Carrasco, Correa, Vietto.

VOTE: What is the top moment from Leicester’s run to glory?

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - APRIL 17:  Leonardo Ulloa of Leicester City celebrates with team mates after scoring his team's second goal of the game from the penalty spot during the Barclays Premier League match between Leicester City and West Ham United at The King Power Stadium on April 17, 2016 in Leicester, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
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What a season (and no, it isn’t over).

Leicester City is the Premier League’s champion, a 5000:1 odds defying winner which has danced through the imaginations of many of the world’s underdogs.

[ SPORTSWORLD: Nothing comparable to Leicester’s win ]

We know how they got here, but an interesting question is which moment will live in your memory when you’re reminded of Leicester’s run?

Game 5 — Dyer win Derby in stoppage

It had been a remarkable early season for Claudio Ranieri‘s troops when the Foxes came back from a 2-0 deficit against Midlands rivals Aston Villa, and substitute Nathan Dyer capped off the 3-2 win in style.

Game 14 — Vardy sets a Premier League record

Ruud van Nistelrooy taking a backseat to Jamie Vardy was unfathomable even a month beforehand, but Vardy’s goal gave him a Premier League record 11-straight matches with a goal (and all in one season). Not bad for the man deemed too old by a 2.Bundesliga team.

Game 25 — Blowout at the Etihad

Certainly many had this date circled as the beginning of a downturn for Leicester, but Riyad Mahrez dazzled while Robert Huth scored a pair of goals in a 3-1 ride past Manchester City on the road. It was on.

Game 27 — Ulloa starts earthquakes

Leicester looked destined to somehow find a draw from a dominant performance when Leonardo Ulloa lifted the Foxes to a late win over Norwich, causing mini earthquakes at the King Power Stadium.

Game 34 — Chaos at King Power

A game easily categorized in short, insane outbursts, or just the name Jon Moss

Vardy sent off for diving ?!? Penalty to West Ham for what?!? Penalty to Leicester for what?!?

2-2 final.

Fellaini, Huth charged after clashing during PL game

MANCHESTER, UNITED KINGDOM - MAY 01: Marouane Fellaini of Manchester United goes past Danny Drinkwater of Leicester City during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Leicester City at Old Trafford on May 1, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
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LONDON (AP) The English Football Association has charged Manchester United midfielder Marouane Fellaini and Leicester defender Robert Huth with violent conduct after they clashed during a Premier League game at the weekend.

Fellaini reacted to getting his hair pulled by Huth by appearing to strike the defender with his elbow as they jostled at a set-piece during the 1-1 draw between the teams on Sunday.

[ MORE: Story of Leicester’s season, game-by-game ]

The incident wasn’t seen by the match officials but was caught on video. It will now be referred to a panel of former elite referees.

The charges were announced Tuesday. The FA said the players have until Wednesday to respond.

Ranieri says club won’t repeat as Premier League champions, will “continue to build”

during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Leicester City at Old Trafford on May 1, 2016 in Manchester, England.
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Claudio Ranieri knows there’s difficulty ahead for Leicester City, albeit on a relative scale.

The Foxes are Premier League champions after Spurs’ 2-2 draw with Chelsea on Friday, and the Leicester boss is already being asked about a repeat performance.

[ MORE: Ranieri thanks Chelsea | Fans react in Leicester ]

With UEFA Champions League play next year and what is sure to be a tempting transfer market, Ranieri is being pragmatic in his approach. He says they won’t win the PL next season.

From Sky Sports:

“We want to continue to build,” he told SSN HQ’s Rob Dorsett. “When I came here, the project was to build a very good foundation and slowly, slowly to grow up together in three to four years to fight for the Europa League and slowly come to fight for the Champions League.

“Now the season is out of our project but of course, the foundation is very solid. We know very well we have to fight for the position but we want to do our best. I’m positive and I want to fight.”

You’ll probably say he’s continuing a pattern of being sly — lowering sunglasses — like a fox, as Ranieri started 2015-16 wanting 40 points, then the Top Four, before finally admitting the title was an option.

You think he’s going to claim he’ll repeat? You can cue The Who, because Claudio… we won’t get fooled again.