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Morning Ticker: USL keeps rolling, MLS keeps stumbling in CONCACAF Champions League


It was another good night for USL teams and another disappointing showing for MLS teams in the CONCACAF Champions League.

The Montreal Impact faced Mexican power Atlante on Wednesday and posted a 0-0 tie to stay in a tie for first place in its group with Atlante.

D.C. United’s night wasn’t quite as fun. Playing without several key starters, the MLS squad fell, 2-0, to Honduran side CD Marathon in San Pedro Sula. The loss dropped D.C. into last place in its group.

For those of you who have lost track, Wednesday’s results now put MLS teams at a horrendous record of 0-5-2 in the Champions League tournament. As for the USL? The lower division now boasts an unbeaten mark of 5-0-3.

Yes, you read those numbers correctly.

Does it mean that USL is better than MLS? No, I won’t go that far. What it does show is that MLS teams are both ill-equipped and not exactly motivated to perform well in this tournament, not with the MLS playoffs looming and coaches having to choose between a new tournament and success in MLS. This is extremely disappointing considering the opportunity the Champions League provides MLS to show how it stacks up against the rest of the region.

There doesn’t appear to be any such concerns for the USL teams, which are fighting and clawing against tough competition with bigger payrolls, longer history and deeper benches and finding ways to secure results every time.

Yes, teams like New England, Chivas USA and D.C. United have had to deal with rashes of injuries that made these matches that much tougher, but the results still underscore some flaws MLS needs to address. Most notably the fact that an 18-man senior roster just isn’t big enough to put out competitive teams in both MLS play and international competition. Yes, teams have 28-men rosters once you include developmental players, but counting on a group of players that consists mainly of projects and rookies who mostly earn less than $20,000 a year isn’t exactly the formula for success on the international stage.

All is not lost for MLS in this competition just yet. Houston boasts a deep and strong team and has yet to play a home game so there is still hope that the Dynamo can carry the MLS flag deep into the tournament, and at the very least break the winless run MLS is enduring in the competition.

As for Puerto Rico and Montreal, these teams have done wonders for the profile of USL and just might give the league the boost it needs to start attracting more talent and more investment. Something tells me it wouldn’t exactly hurt MLS to start feeling some pressure from the lower league.

What do you think of MLS being winless and USL being unbeaten in Champions League play? Share your thoughts below.


  1. That’s a good point, Messi14. If you watched the Mon. V Atlante game, and watched what was going on off the ball, the USL players were always running, always thinking, always jockeying for better field position and offensive flow.

    MLS teams spend so much time knocking the ball around they put themselves to sleep. How else do you explain the typical lacksadaisical approach you see off the ball from MLS players, who typically walk around the pitch until it comes into their general area.

  2. MLS has lulled itself into a community where the play among its teams is a certain pace…. and that pace (slow) leads to lack of alertness, lack of quick thinking, focus seems to be on conservation of energy…is it the pay level? I’m not referring to just running around, but the quickness and reaction time on the ball is missing….it’s as if they expect a certain time allocation allowed to think about their next move….kind of weekend ball.

  3. I watched the Montreal game. They outshot Atlante and had all the better scoring opportunities. It seems both Montreal and Puerto Rico are peaking at the right time. They both started the season near the bottom of the USL and climbed to the top.

    Atlante rested some of their starters last night, but still Montreal showed a great effort.

  4. BellusLudas said:

    “Crashing out of Champions is the best thing that could happen to MLS now. As Americans (for right or wrong) we don’t like losing at anything…especially in our hemisphere. This is the greatest single motivator I can think of to get owners to expand rosters and salary cap.”

    Man do I hope you are right.

  5. Perhaps they should not enter because if anyone was really watching besides the small soccer press in the U.S.A. and us loyal followers they would be having a field day taking soccer in this country to task for such a gross display of utter lack of skill and general ineptitude.

    This is one time it is good that the mainstream press does not pay attention to soccer in North America.

    Don’t try to sugar coat the crap product that MLS has put out in these weak international competitions. There is no worthy excuse.


    Are Development Player roster spots still relevant in MLS?

    I say NO.

    With the growth of youth academies, obvious progress in talent in the USL, and the like what purpose do Development Players have for MLS sides? Yes, there is the rare quality bargain backup or “zero to hero” stars but considering that MLS clubs lose quality young talent to the USL because they are unwilling to play in the MLS Reserves Division for Happy Meals at McDonalds makes me think that above all (salary cap, DP rules, etc.) the Development Player roster position is what needs to change the most to help build depth on MLS rosters so in congestion and crunch time these “lack of depth” issues will not be as prominent.

    Am I right? Anybody? Ives?

    (I’m asking because it’s just my theory)

  7. i’ve watched a lot of games this year involving Montreal.

    I think it’s safe to say that the difference between the best player and the worst player on USL sides is less than the difference in MLS.

    This is the depth issue. It’s not simply a case of USL having more players on their “senior” roster. It’s that you don’t have the massive differences in quality. You can lose a guy to injury and replace him with a reasonable substitute. In MLS, you lose Amado Guevara and you replace him with a 19 year old making $12000.

    From what i’ve read of USL salaries, they seem to make a more comfortable living than the guys at the back end of the senior MLS roster, and certainly more $$ than the 19-28 position players on MLS rosters (who won’t even get to play the # of games that USLers play).

    USL teams overall probably compare to the quality of talent from maybe the 7th best player on an MLS team to the 18th best player. But that quality is spread across the whole team. MLS sides have probably 6 players that would easily be better than the best guys on the USL sides, but you can’t run a team on 6 players….. You add injuries/tiredness/international absences to the MLS sides, and you basically have USL teams with even less depth thanks to the bad reserve rosters.

  8. I am getting tired of hearing that MLS teams do not “care” about these international competitions. League games are more important?!?

    The solution is to abolish the playoff system. Single table, single champion at the end of the season (Supporters’ Shield). Right now, D.C. United is nowhere close to the top if the MLS had a single table league. Do you think that D.C. United would play more competitively if they didn’t have to worry about making the playoffs?

    This is precisely why Europe takes their UEFA competitions more seriously. They do not have playoffs looming at the end of the season while international competitions are being held.

    MLS it is time to do away with the playoffs. Its teams should actually “care” about international games more so than league games.

  9. I don’t begrudge the USL teams their success. Good for them, and it’s good for soccer in this country as another outlet for players who were passed over by MLS or want an alternative to a developmental contract…

    When talking USL v. MLS, I think it’s similar to the question many ask about MLS v. EPL. A top USL team would likely end up being a bottom of the table team in MLS over a full season. I don’t think that’s an insult to the USL, just reality.

    However, USL teams have proved time and again that they are capable of rising to the occasion to play well against some good teams.

  10. I know it will not happen for decades and probably not ever, but I think this is the benefit of a promotion-relegation system. If one team is playing particularly ugly soccer and there are 4 teams in the league below playing better, why not swap them?

  11. Saying Houston plays 52 games and a USL team only plays 30 is not totally honest. When you factor in Canadian Championship or Caribbean Cup matches for Montreal/Puerto Rico plus the Champions League they are suddenly up to 44 games minimum, and unlike MLS which schedules in a more equitable fashion, USL teams in these competitions, often times play 3 games in 5 days as Montreal does this week. That’s the same for the Open Cup. Charleston generally played 5 games in 9 days every time they had an open cup match.

  12. Being a Canadian, watching the Montreal game against Atlante and the TFC game in KC, plain and simple I do think Montreal is a better team than TFC. I’m not saying USL is better than MLS. But a 3rd place USL team might be better than a last place MLS team.

    also, did anyone else find it funny the Canadian MLS team played their last game in a converted baseball park with an amateur sized field while one of the Canadian USL teams hosted a mexican powerhouse?

  13. Don’t underestimate the exposure factor when assessing the attitude and effort of the players and coaches in MLS vs USL relative to this tournament.

    This tournament it the only chance that a player in the USL has a chance to get some TV exposure and advance their career. MLS players have less people wathcing this than their weekly nationally broadcast games and playoff games. This is hugely due to motivation.

  14. I can’t believe some people think that the argument about cap and roster is nonsense.

    Here’s the deal: yeah, USL teams mostly don’t have big budgets or huge rosters compared to MLS teams. But the MLS teams who are “rewarded” by participation in these tournaments play twice as many games. So, a USL team plays 30 games with 26 players. Houston has 52 games down on their schedule (excluding MLS playoffs and advancing in Champions League–so they’ve got a decent shot at playing 60 games this year). Plus missing players to NT callups (not as much of an issue with USL teams I’m guessing). DC United has 51 games on their schedule.

    I’m glad that the USL teams are doing well. Their season is practically over, their players have a lot to play for (in terms of bigger contracts and more visibility–with MLS for instance). All you have to do is look at how Chivas or DC or NE looked in their international competition (and subsequent league games) to see that too many games in a short period results in a team that is dragging. It happened to FCD in the first half of last season and LAG in the second half of last season (where beforehand, some naive LAG fans insisted that with so many games left to play, it just meant they could make up ground quicker–hah!).

    Sure, most clubs will sometimes have a stretch where they play 3 games in 7 or 8 days. But NE had/has a period of 13 games in 41 days. With 3 games you suck it up and then put on extra ice or take a day off the second week. But with 13 games, the team’s game falls apart. Effectively, that was what the Red Bulls were the first half of the season: a team playing their reserves (the combination of some injuries and then JCO not filling spots–waiting for August). And we saw how dreadful that was.

    What the USL results show is not that USL is equal or better to MLS. They show that a club that is healthy and semi-rested and motivated to compete and scratch and claw there way to success in this competition. And a club that is injured and tired and playing a bunch of scrubs is probably going to get their butts kicked. And that is what happened to DC in Superliga, Chiva and NE in qualifying.

  15. MLS is stable and making money. MLS coaches have chosen to place the MLS playoff hunt in favor of the CCL. USL teams are ceasing the moment. The USL will never have two teams in the CCL group stages again.

  16. Crashing out of Champions is the best thing that could happen to MLS now. As Americans (for right or wrong) we don’t like losing at anything…especially in our hemisphere. This is the greatest single motivator I can think of to get owners to expand rosters and salary cap.

  17. Justin O, the MLS roster size issue is relevent because MLS teams only have an 18-man senior roster. The 10 developmental slots are mainly made up of rookies, prospects and players who you can argue are not as good as USL players. When teams such as DC, Chivas and New England face a rash of injuries to top players, their teams suddenly aren’t much better than a USL team.

    While I keep stressing this point, I’m not joining anybody in suggesting that USL as a league is equal to MLS. That just isn’t the case. I know USL fans will point to the Champions League as evidence, but I’ll agree that these results show that the gap isn’t as wide as some might have thought before.

  18. Oss- Gee, Thanks. That’s not what I was saying, to infer that this would happen within the next 15 years is ludicrous. But hey, thanks for trying to crush my dream, Negative Nancy.

  19. I definitely agree that the Superliga should be more of a UEFA cup format. As a Fire fan, I’d like to see them in a side tournament, but by awarding all berths to the top finishers in the league, we get nothing but Dynamo, Revs and DCU–all of whom are obviously being hurt by the busy schedule. Splitting the games between Mexico and the U.S. wouldn’t hurt either. It would definitely make the tournament more legit. And the rest of us “non-champions” could see our teams play more.

  20. Even as a DC United fan, I will easily admit that DC United isn’t as good/deep/healthy as some of these other sides.

    As I say that, I would like to see CONCACAF spread the group stages out a little bit more. I think the travel is a detriment for the teams putting their best on the pitch ever week. (For instance, DC had a 12 hour flight from LA to Honduras. Who knows what these teams are flying to Montreal and the like.)

    Home teams are 8-2-3 in the group stages so far.

  21. Montreal actually plays 3 games in 5 days with games at Seattle and at home to Seattle in the playoffs Fri and Sunday. When they beat Real Esteli in two legs they played 4 games in 6 days in the midst of fighting for their playoff lives. So USL teams had the playoffs races and fixture congestion to deal with and still produced some good football in the CCL. Why? I think they simply are more direct in their style of play and thus are able to convert possession into goals. The Serie A, BPL comparison above is right on when it comes down to it. Part of the reason is USL has had a lot of British coaches and British players from the lower leagues pass through the last several years. Puerto Rico of course has Colin Clarke coaching them and the very direct approach that didn’t work for him with Latinized players in Dallas is working with a cosmopolitan squad in Puerto Rico.

  22. Champions leagues around the world are generally about ther richest teams in their domestic league getting to play the richest team from other doemstic leagues so they can remain the richest teams in their respective domestic leagues (did that make sense?). The entertainment value is a biproduct of this.

    The MLS doesn’t have a richest team loaded with it’s leagues best talent. It only makes sense that MLS teams get beat by the richest teams, with, for the most part, the best players from their league.

    I still maintain the USL has been under estimate by their competition. We are 2 games in. The cream rises to the top. Unfortunately the skim milk teams produced by a salary capped MLS can’t compete. (I support the salary cap. With out it there’s no MLS).

  23. agreed MIG, when the teams have the oppurtunity to play on a natural surface, the games are 10 times better from a viewing quality and overall team performance. I’d like to see teams records on grass v. record on turf.

  24. Food for those of you who don’t follow the USL-1 at all:


    RE: Rosters

    “USL rosters may consist of a maximum of 26 players, with 18 designated for each game.”

    “In USL-1 and USL-2, each team is permitted a maximum of five (5) foreign players on its active game-day roster and a maximum of seven (7) foreign players on its master roster.”

    From what I understand – there’s no salary cap, it’s whatever your franchise can afford – players get paid decently (anecdotally, players have opted to play in USL-1 for better pay than they’d get in MLS, and probably get more playtime). There’s no list of salaries that I know of for USL-1 like there is for MLS.

    This year there were 11 teams in USL-1, each team played 30 times. (You can see the schedule and results on, if you’re interested.) The season started in mid-April and ended mid-September. Top 7 teams made the playoffs, with the winner (Puerto Rico) getting a bye the first round. Playoffs are 2-leg series except for the final.

    If you want to see games (playoffs included, which start Friday – go Rochester!), you can watch on (for a fee – $50 for a season pass, IIRC) – that’s every game except the weekly matchup on FSC. You can also see the ‘goals of the week’ at


  25. Isn’t it time to stop referring to MLS as our first division and USL as the second. They are two different leagues located in the US and Canada. Right now the USL seems to have the upper hand even though MLS won the Open Cup.

    At the top MLS have more “stars” but there are players getting playing time in MLS that would have a hard time making the first team in the top half of the USL. I think the USL has been able to put together good squads with solid journeymen rather than relying on two or three stars and a bunch of crap (ala LA Galaxy). It is a shame that the better USL teams are made up of solid mid level players (many times former MLS players) that became too expensive for the MLS salary cap as they progressed from the development roster to the senior roster.

    I personally blame the DP rule for creating disjointed squads that lack chemistry. Yes we get to see the Beckham’s, Blanco’s, Gallardo’s et. al. but at the end of the day they really don’t help their teams that much. This is what the fans wanted (entertainment over competition) so this what the fans got.

    I don’t know if it is Garber’s fault, but he is in charge. The league headquarters are ultimately responsible for all personell matters from negotiating contracts to paying salaries. The rules and structure of MLS are so inward looking that it not suprising that they get clobbered in international competitions. Hell, the league doesn’t even recognize the World Cup. What do you expect.

  26. Well, after this tournament I think MLS league officials will have a difficult time defending their policies as they stand. It’s very likely that no MLS teams will advance out of the group stages. If they want to make their case for their legitimacy internationally as a club league, 0-5-2 is a pretty tough record to sell.

  27. I don’t get the continued arguments that point to MLS roster size as the reason why things are going poorly. That may be an excuse for doing worse than Mexican teams, but how is it an excuse/reason for doing worse than USL teams? Don’t USL team have less depth? lower salaries? worse fixture congestion?

    MLS roster size and salaries would be a good excuse for losing to top level European teams. But shouldn’t MLS rosters be an ADVANTAGE relative to the competition in THIS tournament???

  28. While I don’t blame Garber for every woe in MLS, I think it’s a bit idealistic to think that he is not responsible for aspects of the league’s difficulties. It is not necessarily a simpleton’s attitude to hold him accountable for certain practices of the league. The owners, coaches, and players all get their share too. And the gross generalization of a popular figure not making sound decisions is…well…a gross generalization.

    Brett, I love your idea for treating the Superliga as a parallel to the UEFA Cup. It both helps with fixture congestion and gives more clubs opportunities for international exposure. Very sharp.

    I wouldn’t panic about the MLS quality. The cap will go up after the CBA renogiation and it is absolutely undoubted that the quality of the league is improving. Just watch the games that are played on the real fields in the league. Crap fields like KC and the turf games excluded, this league just keeps getting better.

  29. I recognize I could be wrong about this, but the main reason I wouldn’t worry if I were the MLS teams is a simple word: attendance. I can’t remember the last time I watched an MLS team play in ANY tournament and have a full house. It seems like MLS fans don’t care about the CONCACAF tournaments, so what is the incentive for MLS teams to perform if their fans don’t care?

  30. THC-

    This doesnt mean that promotion/relegation will be coming. Itll never happen, never ever, ever. People dont pay 50 million to have their team relegated that same season.

  31. I am always amused by the simpletons who blame Garber. Yes, simpletons is the correct word.

    Is he stopping the owners from shelling out more money? Is he stopping them from expanding rosters? His job is to find ways to make the league more money…a league that loses money. He has done a tremendous job considering the circumstances.

    If anyone can convince the owners to spend more than go for it brilliant businessman.

    There wouldn’t be the interest in the league now from investors witout him.

    Until there is a consensus of owners who can over rule the ones who want to spend as little as possible then you will get what you get. The CBA is coming. Some things will changer, we will see how much, especially in this economy.

    People here who don’t understand the league or Garbers job should work on Wall Street. Stupidity reigns there also. Oblivious and limited to say the least.

    To say Garber is an incredibly respected man in the real business world for what he has done for this already dead and buried league 5 years ago is an understatement.

    We will be lucky to hold on to him.

    Note – When the mob loves someone (Greenspan) be assured he is not making the tough decisions needed for the long run. They take love me now, get it now while mortgaging the future. Leaders who are berated during solid times are almsot always the ones doing the righ thting overall. A simple lesson simpletons should learn.

  32. What about the coaching? Does the USL have more foreign coaches than MLS? Just throwing that out there because the tactical accumen of some MLS coaches is befuddling.

    Size and salaries apart, I am seeing more heart in the USL teams than MLS sides. Could it be the playoff races? Or is it the inability for MLS coaches to get the utmost best and then some from their squads – starters or not?

  33. I completely agree with a couple of posts in regards to flow of play.

    Here’s my take:

    USL = BPL (attacking football)

    MLS = Serie A (possession football)

    yes I know our US leagues are not on the same level as the European leagues, but the style of play is.

  34. JMR – ive been stressing this point for quite some time, but for all the people who dont like superliga, i would like to see it dropped down to the next top 4 teams not participating in the CL… treat it as a UEFA cup to the CL if you wish…. this way more of our teams will be receiving intl’ play and we’ll see our league develope alot more… quite simply we dont have the depth in teams to play all these intl’ tournys and still remain top in the league…

  35. Glad to see this issue is being addressed.

    Lets hope the MLS realizes these changes need to be done. Id love for 2009 to be a big year for the league (as far as changes and wins go)

  36. christian – you bring up a good point… they play very straight forward high pace soccer constantly attacking football… and the MLS sides try to control and possess the ball…

    altho that doesnt necessarily mean better talent, but rather they tend to catch defenders sleeping from time to time… good for USL to do well…

  37. Hell yes it’s about time Don Garber started feeling competition from the lower league. Get him off his ass and find a way to make our MLS teams more competitive in international play.

    Increase the cap and allow more senior players. Clear the schedule congestion for CCL participants and keep them out of Stupidliga. Have the league cover at least 50% of the costs to attend these international matches when they represent our single entity league.

  38. Parity is great for the MLS in league play but terrible for international competetion.

    The USL has been underestimated by their opponents.

  39. congrats to the USL sides…

    MLS once again shows that the league is more impt to them…. i agree with ives, once we can get a roster deep enough to be able to remain competitive in league and intl competitions, MLS sides will continue to field less then stellar sides against opponents…

    also i think the MLS needs to take the reserves league a lil’ more serious… they need to deepen that pool as well with the up n’ coming youngsters from their academy… it all comes with more money obviously, but the repay will suffice and more fans will be enticed to come if their teams are actually doing well…. depth in not only the senior roster, but as well as the reserves is the only way to go… this CL should open our eyes and prove that things need to change….

  40. This should be a clear message to league officials that mls needs a change. Squad sizes and the salary cap must be adressed. The league is doing well, big money investors are intersted in the league. MLS needs to expand the salary cap significantly or do away with it all togetheir. I have no doubt in my mind that one day soon MLS will be one of the best leagues in the world once it comes to its senses with the cap, but I believe that its time to take a risk with it. The fans of soccer in this country our hungry for stars for the league. Its time to deliver to the fans MLS…

  41. What are USL-1’s roster limits?

    Are we to believe that USL-1 teams have deeper rosters than MLS? Bitching about roster size is a lame excuse. Pathetic performances like these are why MLS has such an awful reputation in America. Try showing some of these CCL games and convincing people the product is not absolute crap. I don’t care if teams aren’t trying to win this tournament—regular league games are rarely much better.

  42. After watching PR and Montreal (as well as some other USL teams) I’ve realized that they just play a better brand of football compared to MLS teams.

    Why is that?

    I’ve seen some damn good USL games that included nice, flowing, attacking football that you just don’t see in MLS very often, if at all.

    They may not have the financial backing that MLS teams enjoy but they have seriously shown to be more competent and enjoyable teams.


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