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On MLS: Gap between MLS, Liga MX closing but still looming large

Photo by Anne-Marie Sorvin/USA Today Sports

Every year, MLS clubs come up against Liga MX competition in the CONCACAF Champions League and almost every time, they come up short. In 30 series against MLS opposition, Liga MX sides have emerged victorious 27 times, signaling their dominance over the region on the club level.

That dominance was shown once again this week as Pachuca and Tigres took care of FC Dallas and the Vancouver Whitecaps to seal yet another all Liga MX final. The two series were a sign of just how big the gap is between the two leagues, but they also showed just how much that gap is closing year by year.

Let’s get the facts out of the way. Liga MX is the dominant league in North America and it has been for quite some time. On the field, Liga MX takes care of business time and time again, winning all eight, and soon to be nine, CONCACAF Champions League crowns since the tournament was reintroduced in 2008-09. Even going back to the Champions Cup era, Mexican clubs have won 32 of 51 CONCACAF crowns with a whopping 12 Mexican clubs earning honors as the region’s top team at one point or another.

Off the field, there’s more money, more exposure in the Mexican league. There are better youth programs, more prospects coming through the ranks. Even when it comes to television, Liga MX remains the preferred North American league by American audiences.

That gap is certainly closing. One can’t deny the progress made by MLS and its clubs in recent years, starting with the focus on youth development. Teams are getting younger thanks to the increase in academy investment. The introduction of TAM has seen rosters fill out with more talent, but there’s still work to be done across the board. The Montreal Impact got close a few years ago, but it’s clear that MLS clubs are lagging behind their southern competitors.

This week’s matches were perfect demonstrations of the progress made and to be made in the future. FC Dallas and the Vancouver Whitecaps showed that MLS clubs are more than capable of playing with and competing with Mexican clubs, but the maturity and makeup just isn’t quite there.

Let’s start with FC Dallas, who fell to Pachuca on a stunning last second goal. Entering with a lead following a home win, FC Dallas went down to Mexico and battled through a physical match. Down late, Cristian Colman’s equalizer had FCD just moments away from extra time before Hirving Lozano took advantage of a defensive blunder to score a stoppage time equalizer. The 180 minutes were undone in a split second, ending FC Dallas’ hopes.

In many ways, FC Dallas is the best of MLS and where the league is going. They recruit top South American prospects and turn them into stars. They invest heavily in their youth like Kellyn Acosta, who was probably the second best player on the field on Tuesday. Even without their best player, Mauro Diaz, FC Dallas went toe-to-toe with Pachuca, falling in the final seconds.

The Whitecaps, meanwhile, are a bit further down the pecking order. They missed the postseason in 2016 and have begun 2017 with a less-than-ideal start. Still, facing a team that is likely the best in the region in Tigres, the Whitecaps were one goal away until Andre Pierre-Gignac scored a superstar goal. The Whitecaps weren’t overmatched in some indefensible way; they just lost to a team that should beat most in North America.

That begs the question: how does MLS develop a Tigres? How does an MLS team reach that level? In many ways, its difficult. Parity remains the formula in MLS, making it difficult for any team to recruit a roster as deep, talented and balanced as Tigres. MLS can get the Gignac’s of the world, but it’s hard to supplement them with proper depth. TAM continues to help, especially as teams figure out new ways to take advantage of the systems in place, but it’s still not quite there.

So what can MLS teams do? Pretty much keep chugging along. The MLS-Liga MX debates remain one for the hardcores, as evidenced by the crowds for several matches throughout the tournament. MLS, in many ways, should just keep focusing from within, developing and adding pieces. There’s competition, naturally, but the league’s focus should be on developing from within, not keeping up with Liga MX.

While MLS continues to grow, Liga MX does too. The recruitment of players like Gignac and Eduardo Vargas give the league top-level players, while Mexican prospects like Lozano continue to come through the pipeline towards Europe. Liga MX isn’t standing still, much like MLS, as both leagues continue to evolve and develop in the ever-changing soccer landscape.

Eventually, the day will come when an MLS club wins the CONCACAF Champions League. It may not be next year, the year after or even the year after that, but eventually, it will come. Someday, maybe, MLS will have a run of dominance in the tournament, signaling their rise to the throne of North America’s best.

However, it’s very clear that that day isn’t here yet, but the path there continues to look a bit brighter year-by-year.

23 comments
  • Joe Dirt

    You could literally save this story and use it year after year and just change the game recap each time.

    Like

  • Quit Whining About Soccer in the US

    Good article, but….
    Complete troll bait. The whiners should be out in force on this one!

    Why is it anyone bringing up dominance by Mexico teams doesn’t ever compare it to Europe?
    It isn’t any different there. The teams with money win, the teams without have zero prayer of winning.

    But somehow that is different? It isn’t different. MLS teams don’t have money. Do you see Dallas’ attendance?

    It’s cute how someone draws lines around a country and says that is the determining factor.

    But out of the last 8 Euro CL. Barca 3x, Real Madrid 2x with Bayern Munich having made the finals 3x and winning 1. Where are the non big club teams? Where are the MLS teams of Europe. No money, but expected to win?

    Leceiter needs to win this or the Premier league sucks?
    No. Money wins in soccer. MLS will have money, they don’t right now.

    Like

    • Quit Whining About Soccer in the US

      Look at that. Last 8 years.

      Euro Champs league
      3 time winner
      2 time winner
      and 3 one time winners.

      CCL
      3 time winner
      2 time winner
      and 3 one time winners.

      Like

    • Joe Dirt

      Given the arguement and evidence that in other regions of the world the higher revenue generating clubs tend to have a greater amount of success. How do you feel as a Sounders fan that as the largest revenue generating and highest attendence team for 6-7 years now a large portion of you franchise’s revenue goes to subsidize the weaker lower revenue teams with poor attendence like FC Dallas or Chicago Fire and all you have is a few domestic cups and last years MLS Cup.

      Like

      • Quit Whining About Soccer in the US

        I want three things.

        One, the Sounders to win.

        But a real victory, in a real league. So…….

        Two, in a great league to watch. Let’s face it LaLiga the best league in the world according to the measure of Champs league success, is a waste of time. Watch Real Madrid play Barca, you have 90% of the seasons winners ( probably more ). Watching Messi and Ronaldo score 100 goals a season. Pretty exciting let me tell you….
        Is it FAIR that my money pays for Dallas to be good? Probably not, but I don’t want the Sounders winning every time they play. I have better things to do with my time than watch Hulk Hogan take home the belt again. Plus Dallas ain’t drawing while they ARE one of the best teams in MLS. They will disappear as one of the worst year after year.

        Three, I want Dallas and Chicago to draw more. Crazy they don’t, I guess you probably don’t agree with that… but it takes time and time will solve that.

        ps. I have no idea if Wresting had Hulk Hogan take home the belt every time. I barely watch LaLiga, not watching wrestling for sure.

        Like

      • quozzel

        I would say a rising tide has to lift all boats, and a competition has to be fair and reasonably equal to be compelling. Otherwise you’re just watching the Harlem Globetrotters abuse the Washington Generals, over and over and over again.

        Teams like Barca, Real Madrid, and Bayern may be great teams, but their uber-dominance is stifling and more than a little boring…and IMHO it dries up the rest of their leagues and pyramid.

        Who in America would invest in a small-market team if you know the big-market uberclubs are just going to poach your best players and then kick you around with them? That might fly in Europe for lack of alternatives but in our crowded sports marketplace we demand a lot more…we actually demand parity in our leagues.

        Like

    • Rob

      I notice the you conveniently forgot to mention that Barca, Madrid and Bayern also happen to be the best in the world developing talent.

      Like

      • johnnyrazor

        Five of Barcelona’s starters against PSG were from their youth system.

        Bayern had two from their youth system against Arsenal, Hummels who spent 8 years with Dortmund but was a Bayern Academy kid and Alaba who was with Austria Wien for 6 years before moving to Bayern as a 16 year old.

        The top clubs win because they can buy the best players, managers, and facilities. Development might give them a leg up in players 7-11 on their roster, but if you can’t buy top talent for spots 1-6 you aren’t going to compete.

        Like

      • Gary Page

        The best way for a European team to make a large and quick leap to success is for a billionaire to buy their team. Chelsea was the first recent example. Man City was never more than mid-table until purchased by a multi-billionaire. Lyon and Marseilles dominated France until PSG went that route. Money can’t buy you love, but it can rent some and buy you a championship soccer team.

        Like

  • Joe from Spring

    Inferior league. The league is only concerned with selling franchises and making 100’s of millions. However, it will not give individual teams and owners free reign to spend their $$$$ as they see fit. The salary cap is the PROBLEM. Get rid of it and the cream will rise to the top. Parity is not always a good thing….

    Like

      • NE Revs

        Depends how quickly my travel fund recovers from this year’s SB

        Like

  • Gary Page

    MLS just needs to keep chugging along? No, the lack of depth is due to the small salary cap. Attendance is growing, the key is TV money. Until that is renegotiated, they can live off of new franchise fees.They need to double or triple the salary cap, allow a certain amount of money that could be used for DP’s to be added to the salary cap so that you could have a number of players making $1 million plus a couple of superstars. From watching these games the difference is definitely smaller. Mexican teams still have better ball skills, especially passing in tight situations when pressured. And, what won the games for Tigres and Pachuca were stunning strikes from their star strikers. Only the dead ball goal from Acosta in the first leg in Dallas approached those. Often it is finishing that marks the difference between good and great and it was often the difference in these games. Yet, the MLS teams with the best strikers (Keene with Galaxy, BWP and Red Bulls, Sounders with Dempsey and Martins, TFC with Giovinco and Altidore) rarely make it far in CONCACAF, perhaps because of lack of depth.

    Like

  • kid(c)

    Mexico laughs at our TAM, GAM, re-entry draft, DP, YDP, college draft, discovery, etc, etc, etc

    Like

  • bizzy

    Hence the reason I say hats off to:
    Ventura Alvarado
    Paul Arriola
    Jonathan Bornstein
    Edgar Castillo
    Joe Corona – Sinaloa (on loan from Club Tijuana)
    Greg Garza – Atlanta (on loan from Club Tijuana)
    Omar Gonzalez
    Jose “Paco” Torres – UANL Tigres
    Michael Orozco Fiscal
    William Yarbrough

    Now if only we could field a complete Liga MX team lol

    ——————-XXXXX—————-

    Castillo———Corona————–Arriola

    ———-Torres———–Bornstein———-

    Garza—-Alvarado—-Gonzo——Orozco

    —————Yarbrough————————

    Like

  • Rob

    The narrative that Mexican teams dominate mls because they have more money is total, complete and absulut bull sheat. If you take the 10 highest spending teams between those two leagues I’m willing to bet anything that the majority of them are in MLS.
    The difference is how the two leagues spend their money. Mexican fans are not impressed by some old has-been trotting around the field for 7 mill a year. MLS is built around them.

    Like

    • Johnnyrazor

      You are actually wrong, the most recent data I could find reveals Liga Mx pays almost double in average salary. Toronto would come in around 14th or 15th in the Liga Mx salary chart. Do top stars often make more in Mls sometimes but it’s not the top 5 players that make Liga Mx teams better it’s players 6-20 where MLS drops off. Money is not the only factor, but to say it isn’t a factor is silly even for you Rob.

      Like

    • Panda

      Oh Rob, you silly troll. Who were the old multi-million dollar has-beens who suited up for FC Dallas and Vancouver? Contrary to popular — and ignorant — belief, MLS isn’t built around has-beens. But when have facts ever gotten in the way of your uninformed rants?

      Like

  • Scott e Dio93

    MLS continue look pathetic.

    DP’s should be players making over $900k.

    Salary Cap is low for a modern elite soccer league.

    Like

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