This question has been asked time and time again, and over the past 24 hours we were given a timely reminder to exactly why Major League Soccer will struggle to compete with Liga MX, Mexico’s top-flight, to dominate the CONCACAF region.
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Since the CONCACAF Champions League was revamped in 2008, we have now had seven straight winners from Mexico as Club America defeat plucky Montreal 5-3 on aggregate with a resounding 4-2 away win in the second leg on Wednesday.
Of the 14 finalists to compete in the past seven CCL finals, only two have been from MLS and North America’s top flight is so eager to get one over Liga MX and rule its own region that it rescheduled MLS games for Montreal to give them more time to rest for the second leg. It also thought about helping them out with an intra-league loan deal after their two starting goalkeepers became unavailable. Simply put, MLS wants to succeed in the CCL badly but until it can compete financially with Mexico’s top-flight, it is never going to happen.
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Montreal’s run was a bit of a fairytale. They were the worst team in MLS last season and have started sluggishly in 2015, the fact that they made the CCL final surprised many but it can keep in cup competitions, that’s the beauty of it. What didn’t surprise anybody was the lack of depth they possessed against Club America and the main reason, as it is for most things in life and sports, is money.
Look at the Tweet below from ESPN’s Taylor Twellman.
Above you can clearly see the main reasons for Liga MX’s dominance in the CCL. The guys who are on roster spots 12-18 are making substantially more than their MLS counterparts and therefore squads are stronger and more able to compete in multiple competitions throughout a season. Most MLS teams cannot juggle their league and CCL priorities due to the salary cap and not being able to attract higher quality players to be a member of their squad. 1-11 MLS teams are very strong but as we saw with Montreal, as soon as a few injuries or suspensions pop up, they are struggling.
Looking back at the recent Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) between MLS and the Players Union, a quote from MLSPU chief Bob Foose, who spoke exclusively to PST, really stuck out to me.
“It bears itself out in very tangible ways when you look at things like the CCL and we are all very committed to competing successfully with the Mexican teams in that competition,” Foose said. “You really need to look no further to the depth and commitment of those teams and their salary structure to find out why we haven’t been successful. Across the Mexican league you see real depth in those rosters. So when you get into a competition like that, where you are not able to play your regular starting lineup in every game in the competition, due to the balance in the Mexican league you see a different level of player in those slots 12-18 than you can possibly expect in our league. That isn’t something which can be solved overnight, we acknowledge that, but it is something which needs to be addressed quickly or we are not going to be able to make the strides forward we want to make.”
Until MLS pays more money and ups the minimum salary even further, its expectations of being the top domestic league in the CONCACAF region cannot continue. In the next CBA deal in 2020, addressing this disparity compared to Liga MX needs to be a priority for the MLSPU.
This is not a slight on the league, its clubs or the owners. These are just plain old facts. If you invest more money in players, then inevitably you will get better players and better teams will follow. We have seen heavy investment at the top end of MLS rosters over the past eight years since the Designated Player rule came into place, and that has worked wonders for the league, but if MLS now wants to rule CONCACAF and seriously challenge Liga MX sides for the CCL title every season, they must make more money available to the lower roster spots.