Here’s what matters in MLS

(Published on the Philly Soccer Page on July 28, 2010.)

Memo to Major League Soccer:

We don’t care about the SuperLiga.

Euro friendlies? Nice, gets you some exposure and ticket revenue, but nobody cares who wins.

Tonight’s MLS all-star match is nice, but the same Man U team of backups facing the all-stars already lost to a 10-man Kansas City squad that’s one of the league’s worst.

What (should) matter most are the following:

  • Regular season and playoffs (although too many teams make the playoffs);
  • CONCACAF Champions League;
  • U.S. Open Cup.

So when your league’s best team loses 4-1 at home to a second division squad in Champions League, it’s absolutely inexcusable.

That’s right. The Los Angeles Galaxy lost 4-1 at home to the Puerto Rico Islanders. With center back Omar Gonzalez, left back Todd Dunivant, and goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts on the bench, the league’s best defense barely showed up to play. It’s like the Galaxy didn’t even try to win.

Heads up: Champions League matters. The opportunity to play in the Club World Cup against teams like Barcelona or Inter Milan matters. The opportunity to win internationally recognized trophies matters. When you blow it off and treat it as though it doesn’t, MLS gets embarrassed, as it did last night. Don’t give me this bit about an experienced team or whatever.  Yeah, we know Puerto Rico was a Champions League semifinalist last year. Big freaking deal. This is the best team in MLS by far, and they got smoked. All the excuses translates to is “blah blah didn’t take it seriously, got our buts kicked, blah.”

MLS was recently ranked the world’s 88th best domestic professional soccer league by the International Federation of Football History and Statistics.

Yes, we all know the league is far better than that, probably ranking somewhere from 15th to 25th, much like the Russian league is far better than its perch at No. 44. The rankings heavily factored in Champions League showings.

The choice to blow off Champions League games is foolish, much like the complete lack of respect for the U.S. Open Cup. Every serious domestic league in the world has at least one major cup competition and Champions League. I’d much rather watch a meaningful Champions League game against Chivas Guadalajara or Saprissa, two of the best teams in Mexico and Honduras, or a U.S. Open Cup match against the Red Bulls or Harrisburg than Celtic’s second teamers.

Fans would take Champions League and U.S Open Cup seriously if only MLS clubs would. Yet they don’t. American professional soccer gets a black eye as a result.

Do you want MLS to be taken more seriously by top players considering playing in the U.S. and Canada? Winning the Champions League and going to the Club World Cup would be a start.

Then, instead of meaningless friendlies against second stringers, an MLS team could play the world’s top clubs in games that actually matter.