Last night both New England and Chivas USA bombed out of the CONCACAF Champtions League by a 6-1 and 3-1 aggregate score respectively. The reason is not that they didn't come to play (well, maybe New England is feeling the pain of fixture congestion), but rather the MLS has hamstrung their clubs with rules that other leagues don't have--particularly the salary cap. Mickey League Soccer will ensure that MLS clubs will not hoist a Champions League Cup anytime soon.
Last night's trouncing, at home before less than 4,000 fans, of New England by JOE Public is just sad. Now don't get me wrong, as a loyal DC United fan, New England bombing out of the Champions League would normally be a good thing, but there is something far deeper at stake.
New England's early exit is not a good sign for the MLS. The Mexican Primera is probably the best league on a wholesale basis and I would not be surprised to see a Mexican team win the Champions League for the next few years, although Saprissa could squeak in as well.
The fact that the MLS is the only top league in the world (maybe) that uses a salary cap means that the MLS will not be able to compete with richer clubs in the region no matter how important designated players are or what they contribute. No club in the MLS will be able to build a full 20-24 player squad of quality players who can bring depth and skill to the team when the starting XI is injured or suspended or whatnot. Until the salary cap is either fully lifted or increased to a point that a club doesn't have to have development/reserve players making $17,000 per year and can actually recruit and retain talent by paying decent salaries, the MLS will not be able to compete on an international level.
From the lack of salary space comes all the other issues, limited roster size, inability to keep and retain talent. The fact that top draft picks for the MLS choose to play in the USL for $30,000 or $35,000 salaries rather than playing in the MLS for a developmental contract should be a signal.
Until MLS starts acting like a world class league, you will not see the MLS hoisting a CONCACAF Champions League trophy.
Crossposted at Minute91.com