Friday, April 06, 2007

MLS Still A Step Behind Mexican League

It had been two years since UNAM Pumas blew DC United out of the CONCACAF Champions Cup, until the two leagues squared off again in a first team competitive match. Actually, two MLS teams made it to the semi-finals of that competition and just like in 2005, the Mexican sides prevailed. However, this year showcased how far the league has come in recent years in improving the quality of it's teams.

On Tuesday, DC United played in Guadalajara against Chivas. Since I've started watching FMF games again, I've been quite fond of that team's attacking style. On Tuesday night, they used their wits more than their legs in a 2-1 win. DC scored first to take a 2-1 aggregate lead the home and home series through a beautiful goal by Jaime Moreno. However, Chivas took the game by the scruff scoring two goals seemingly at will. Then they did what they usually do: send only two players forward and frustrate their opponents. Although they created an opportunity nearly every time they sent more on the attack, they decided to sit back and prevent DC from any chance of tieing the series up.

Last night, Houston Dynamos went into Pachuca with a 2-0 lead. I wasn't really watching the clock, but I think the home side equalized in seventeen seconds. One goal from a brilliant set piece opportunity, and one from a penalty that the referee called due to foul after a delayed penalty a few seconds earlier. Houston didn't give up, though. They went on to take the series lead two more times even though they were outclassed on the night, much more than DC was two nights earlier. Pachuca went on to win in extra time for a 5-4 total goals win.

It is important to point out that the Mexican league has also been improving in recent years. Several south american players have been featuring for top teams as of late. Argentine Christian Giménez, who played a prominent role in Pachuca's attack last night, is a prime example of this. So, with Mexico moving forward, MLS has to be proud that their league may be accelerating at a faster rate.

One thing I have noticed about the differences between the two leagues is that MLS defenders rely far too much on their upper body. The Mexican players exploited this by out-finessing their MLS counterparts on way too many occasions. Houston, especially, also went in far too hard with their slide tackles. I believe this is bred with the unlimited substitution college system where there's always someone fresh to run at the attacker with reckless abandon.

Superliga kicks off it's inaugural season this summer and will feature four MLS and four FMF sides played exclusively in the US. This should be a more even matchup because the MLS teams will take this a little more seriously than the Mexican clubs. Although it's invitation only, the top four MLS teams in 2007 will qualify for this competition in 2008. At the very least, this provides another benchmark for measuring the success of an MLS season. Hopefully Superliga can gain esteem and be a meaningful cup competition further down the line.

As for the CONCACAF competition, word has it they'll be expanding to group stages in a few years. After this week's games, I have to say this is a good thing. Playing in those tough environments provide valuable experience to the American players. The Revs are filled with promising young talent who could have benefited from that kind of experience. Let's just hope the team makes a concerted effort to qualify for these competitions.