Last night Houston traveled to Cancun to face Atalante in the second leg of the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals. They looked like crap.
Goff and the commenters wondered what the deal with MLS's poor performance in the competition. Why is the USL Team's of Montreal and Puerto Rico succeeding and MLS clubs (allegedly a better league) are not?
First, let me say that with respect to Houston, I think they are something of a shadow of their former selves even last year. With the departure of their midfield general Dwayne DeRosario, Houston has been looking for the general who can put the team on their back and carry them and quite frankly they have played enough games to find that guy. I think Dominic Kinnear is hoping that Rico Clark and/or Stuart Holden will grow into that role, but they are young and not likely to make that advancement at this stage in the year. Houston was also without Bobby Boswell and Eddie Robinson, two of their leading defenders.
Second, I think Montreal and Puero Rico are much better defending teams than any MLS club that was in the competition this year. The result is that their organizatio on defense gives them the opportunity to hold a clean sheet longer and then counter attack. It is not pretty football, I admit, but take a look at Liverpool in the UEFA Champions League. They play a very negative style of football, but it serves them well in two legged affairs. Montreal and Puerto Rico also have played that way, which means that if they never concede a goal, the worst that is going to happen to them is that they will draw. In these types of competition, the goal is to advance, not necessarily play the best, most attractive style of football.
Third, I think that MLS as a league and the teams individually, have taken the mindset that it is more important to get into the competition that it is to do well in the competition. The reason is that getting into the competition means that you get some money (not much) but you also get the headache of playing in another competition. The fact that the same teams in teh Champions league were the same teams that were in Superliga last year meant a lot of fixture congestion. So, they got in and more or less tanked the competition. I would be interested to see how the teams react this year when the teams that are in the Champions League will not be involved in Superliga.
Fourth, MLS needs to address how teams that are successful are punished for their success. I would like to see MLS give two or three additional roster spots for teams that make it to Champions league and a bump in the salary cap to get a fighting chance.
Finally, I don't buy the "it's preseason for us." Teams know the competition is coming and can begin training earlier. The USL teams, Puerto Rico and Montreal are also in preseason (and can you imaging preseason training in Montreal in January and February?