Surprise, surprise. Another MLS team is gone from an international competition. D.C. United went down to Guadalajara, Mexico, with a 2-1 edge over Chivas, but lost the second leg 1-0 Tuesday night and was ousted from the Copa Sudamericana on the merciless away-goals rule.
If this is starting to sound like a broken record to you, it should. The fact still remains: MLS teams can’t beat Mexican clubs on their own turf. Without being too much of a shill for a colleague’s extra-curricular activities, check out Luis Bueno’s take on his Sideline Views Blog -- I agree with him 100 percent. (My favorite line: “This result surprises me about as much as the sun does when it shines through my window every morning.”)
Before we go burying MLS clubs again, though, I’m going to argue what I’ll call the “Gold Cup Defense.” You might recall how everyone associated with U.S. Soccer preferred the national team make the CONCACAF Gold Cup its priority this past summer, and not the more prestigious South American Copa América tournament. It’s a similar story with D.C. United and the Copa Sudamericana.
Yeah, an American team came up short in a prestigious South American competition again. And again, it was D.C. United on the painful end of a two-leg series, as it was against Chile’s Universidad Católica in ’05.
Let’s not lament -- South American club competition is still over our heads. MLS clubs are getting better, but they still can’t hang with the Chivas, Boca Juniors and São Paulos -- the heavyweights of Latin America. What MLS needs to do is focus on its own international competition: the CONCACAF Champions’ Cup (which kicks off in January).
Why? A few reasons, and it’s not just because the competition is weaker. (Ever heard of W Connection or Club Xelajú? Me neither.) First of all, with apologies to Costa Rica, the Mexican teams in the Champions’ Cup are MLS teams’ No. 1 antagonist -- one objective in mind, one primary opponent to target. Houston and D.C. came agonizingly close to breaking through this past year, but eventually wilted against Pachuca and Chivas, respectively.
But most important, like the Gold Cup, this is our region, our tournament, our bragging rights. If an MLS club can win it, it would be CONCACAF’s representative at the FIFA Club World Cup every December. The L.A. Galaxy won the Champions’ Cup in 2000 and were all set to match up against the likes of Boca and Real Madrid before the global championship fell apart. Those days are gone. The Club World Cup looks here to stay.
Don’t get me wrong -- when an MLS team eventually advances in the Sudamericana (or perhaps, one day, the more prestigious Copa Libertadores), it’ll be a great victory. But our American teams have a better shot closer to home of winning an entire tournament. And with that comes the true glory of matching up against not just the Boca Juniors or São Paulos, but the real European heavyweights, too.
D.C. United vs. FC Barcelona? Now that sounds really good.