Charlie, as usual, has a point:
Reminder: The pre-Drogba Montreal Impact almost won this tournament. That was not an iconic team. But they prepared, adapted, & persevered.— Charles Boehm (@cboehm) March 2, 2016
Last year's Impact, whether it was fate or karma or money or pride or whatever else under the sun, found a way to be good in the 2015 CONCACAF Champions League. They were frequently out-skilled and obviously suffered from the same type of playing-at-altitude issues that have plagued this year's entrants, but they found a way to consistently survive and advance.
In so doing, they might have signaled a warning to LigaMX teams: If you play your reserves in this tournament, you will get beat.
So, through six quarterfinal games, there hasn't been any tangible year-over-year progress from MLS teams, who are now a combined 0-3-3 against their LigaMX counterparts. Instead, any progress will have to be found in the types of squads the LigaMX teams are putting out. These were full, first teams from Queretaro and Santos Laguna on Tuesday night, just as all four LigaMX teams trotted out first teams last week.
It didn't used to be like this -- Monterrey, back when they were winning consecutive titles, basically rested most of their starters until the finals. So Montreal, by beating Pachuca last year and giving Club America a scare, actually made things more difficult for the teams coming after them.
And that's a good thing. MLS teams still need to work to increase depth and in-game knowhow in order to catch up to their LigaMX counterparts. Tonight's results just reaffirmed that.
Let's start at RFK:
This series was over after four minutes, when Angel Sepulveda lashed home from inside the box. That meant D.C. needed to score four in order to advance, and clearly this team's attack is not ready to score four goals in a single game.
There were signs of hope, however. And obviously this is my chance to highlight the play of rookie Julian Buescher, who I still think will become the type of player you can build a winning midfield around. He, of course, committed a costly defensive gaffe last week in allowing Sinha room to pick a series-changing pass. This week when he came in he was much more focused and seemingly clear on what he was supposed to be doing defensively, and offensively he did this:
What a hit! It'll go down as just a consolation, but Julian Buescher scored his first D.C. United goal in style. https://t.co/QXIN3FKf1A— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) March 2, 2016
I suspect that will be one of the five or 10-best goals of his career. It was a remarkable hit.
But what truly impresses me about Buescher is his passing and understanding of tempo. United have a lot of midfielders who do the dirty work and can connect the dots with their passing, but none have the eye for cutting defenders out of the play like their prized rookie. He plays passes that look simple but actually aren't -- watch him close enough and you'll see a bit of intentional hesitation in order to get a defender to commit, or a bit of reverse spin so that the ball holds up for an overlapping fullback to run onto, or a turn into traffic so that he can force a collapse, then slip his partner through.
This is good stuff that, I think, will translate at the MLS level, and it's something I think United need. Their attackers only work when they're getting the ball in a rhythm and with space; there's no Didier Drogba or Fanendo Adi to hold the ball up, take a beating and grind things out. Fabian Espindola, Chris Rolfe et al require someone who can carve a defense up by spreading it around and playing the ball into space.
If I was a D.C. fan, I'd be hoping for Buescher to get the start this weekend, and most of the rest of the weekends to follow.
There are so many problems with the Galaxy. The biggest one on this night was their inability to defend against set pieces, which was shocking. But let's also point out this second Santos goal of the night, which sealed the deal:
That's an outrageous finish from Ulises Davila, but why was Steven Gerrard late to that play? Once he'd decided not to track Nestor Calderon's run, there was only one thing to do -- get to the edge of the box and close down the nearest attacker.
Slow defensive recognition like that has plagued the former England star since his arrival in Carson (and some less charitable Twitter followers suggested it started well before then), and... well, he'll be 36 soon. He's not going to grow out of it.
Gerrard retains his ability to hit a heat-seeking missile of a long-ball, and my suspicion is that LA would love to be built around and defined by that strength. But right now it's Gerrard's weaknesses that are telling the story for this team.
We'll see if that lasts into the regular season.