Armchair Analyst: Three things we learned from another abbreviated CCL run
Twenty years ago, they said it wouldn't happen. Fifteen years ago, they said it wouldn't last. Ten years ago, they said it wouldn't grow. Five years ago, the stadiums would never be full.
They say a lot of things. Right now, they're saying MLS teams will never win a CONCACAF Champions League title. Let them.
MLS has come a long, long way in two decades, and it just so happens that the CCL is the next hurdle. A frustrating hurdle no doubt, because any American failure – and let's feel free to loop Canada in here, too, since Toronto FC and the Montreal Impact have taken their own lumps – brings the added pain of Mexican dominance.
And let's not kid ourselves: Mexican teams have been dominant in this competition, specifically since it was reborn in 2008-09.
Here are three things we learned after the LA Galaxy bowed out on Wednesday, officially ending MLS' run in this year's tournament:
1. Finishing continues to be the primary difference.
Here's a tweet of mine from the 1-1 Seattle draw at Santos Laguna on Tuesday:
— Matthew Doyle (@MLS_Analyst) April 10, 2013
And here's one from LA's 1-0 loss at Monterrey:
— Matthew Doyle (@MLS_Analyst) April 11, 2013
There's not a lot else to say. Both LA and Seattle played very compact games but still generated chances throughout, which is pretty much exactly what you want from a tactical plan. Keane, Eddie Johnson, Landon Donovan, Steve Zakuani, Jack McBean, Shalrie Joseph ... these are all guys that you would expect to finish their looks.
They didn't. Herculez Gomez and Aldo de Nigris did – not clinically, but just enough. They found the goals they needed, and that's why those two guys will be playing for the CCL title for the second year in a row.
2. Using a target forward to drag defenses around still works.
Old-fashioned No. 9s are, well, old fashioned. Mario Gomez can barely get off the bench for Bayern Munich, Spain and Barcelona regularly trot out a 4-6-0, and we saw Mexico use channel-runners exclusively in the 0-0 World Cup qualifying draw vs. the US last month.
I was thankful, then, that José "Chepo" de la Torre made that (horrible, awful, indefensible) choice, and I still am today. Because when Mexican teams force MLS defenders to play the man instead of the lanes, the game gets impossibly open.
This was especially apparent in the LA series, in which de Nigris was both the best and most influential player (apologies to Marcelo Sarvas, who was excellent over two legs). Every time he peeled off the frontline and into space, Omar Gonzalez and Leonardo had to make a decision. That was the turning point in the first leg, and the nail in the coffin in the second.
3. MLS teams do better in this tournament every year.
It's a hard day to bang this particular drum, but here are the numbers (W-L-T):
Numbers don't lie. But neither does the game, and right now, the Liga MX is better in this competition. Santos Laguna and Monterrey just proved it.