Only the San Jose Earthquakes can hold their heads high after a brutal two day stretch that saw all three of Major League Soccer’s qualifiers for the Concacaf Champions League Quarterfinals sent packing by Mexican opposition.
If Major League Soccer is to catch and someday eclipse Mexico’s Liga MX it looks like it will be at a date far in the future, in light of the beatings administered by Cruz Azul, 5-1 over Sporting Kansas City, and Tijuana, 4-2 over the Los Angeles Galaxy, over the past two days.
Neither game was as close as the scorelines suggest, but for MLS, at least San Jose fought the good fight, going out on penalty kicks, after playing Toluca to a pair of 1-1 ties. In fact, San Jose have reason to feel aggrieved after Alan Gordon’s overtime goal was ruled out, incorrectly it seems, for offsides.
When Shea Salinas’ penalty kick caromed off of the crossbar, the Quakes gutsy performance at Toluca’s 9,000 altitude, was for naught. Wasted as well was a fantastic game from San Jose’s veteran goalkeeper Jon Busch.
The news wasn’t as good from the past two MLS champions, with Los Angeles coughing up their 1-0 lead from the first leg, inside of the first minute at Tijuana.
The Galaxy only had to travel a couple of hundred miles south to Tijuana, but the 2012 MLS champions started off Tuesday night like a team suffering from jetlag.
Jaime Ayovi added to his opening strike with a second goal, just nine minutes in, and before the half hour mark L.A. trailed by three.
At the break Bruce Arena apparently informed his team that there was in fact a match underway, and the Galaxy briefly responded on the re-start. Robbie Keane scored two minutes in, but the hoped for Los Angeles revival would prove a mirage.
L.A. were done in by shoddy defending, and U.S. center back Omar Gonzalez, while not the prime offender, gave national team watchers plenty to worry about with Brazil on the horizon.
On Wednesday night Kansas City seemed eager to ape the Galaxy’s ineptitude, conceding to hosts Cruz Azul in the game’s second minute. The goal was the first of Mariano Pavone’s hattrick, he added strikes in the 23rd and 55th minutes.
Benny Feilhaber cut the deficit to 2-1 on the night and tied the series on aggregate, with Sporting going ahead on the away goal rule. Feilhaber’s goal turned out to be an isolated moment of individual brilliance that would soon be overshadowed as Cruz Azul ran Kansas City off the field.
Constant attacks down the flanks left SKC exposed, with fullback’s Mechack Jerome and Kevin Ellis isolated and exploited by the pacey Cruz Azul wingers.
The second half was all one way traffic and Cruz Azul goals in the 66th and 70th minute doomed Kansas City to CCL elimination.
The one caveat, or excuse if you prefer, for the performance of the MLS clubs is the timing of these CCL quarterfinals so soon after the start of the MLS campaign. That is a legitimate concern, but it hardly explains the dreadful starts by L.A. and Kansas City, especially given that both teams had earned 1-0 wins at home just days before in the opening leg of the tie.
Perhaps more to the point is the league’s restrictive salary cap that makes competing in these Cup competitions a difficult proposition for MLS coaches attempting to stretch thin rosters. The cap has no doubt served its intended purpose, having allowing the league to establish itself minus the bidding wars that played a part in the demise of the old NASL.
But if MLS Commissioner Don Garber is serious in his stated desire to see Major League Soccer take its place as one of the world’s top leagues by 2022, then he will have to loosen the purse strings to allow teams to build stronger and deeper rosters.