The CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals kick off on Tuesday, marking the 15th straight edition of the competition that the knockout rounds are held in February or March.
But if MLS had its way, the Champions League schedule would look very different.
Former LA Galaxy defender Omar Gonzalez, who moved to Mexican club Pachuca this winter, commented on the challenge faced by MLS teams who are still in preseason when Champions League matches roll around at this itme of the year (the 2016 MLS season kicks off on Sunday March 6). Gonzalez told ESPN FC that he thinks CCL “will be very difficult for MLS teams” who have yet to play a competitive match.
MLS Commissioner Garber echoed Gonzalez’s sentiment on Monday, calling for CONCACAF to explore changing the CCL schedule to better accomodate MLS participants.
“I think it is important. I saw a great quote from Omar [Gonzalez] today – we’re at a disadvantage,” Garber told media at a New York City event announcing the league’s new partnership with TAG Heuer. “I think Omar said they’re at eight games in [the Liga MX season], our season hasn’t started yet. I’d love to see CONCACAF understand the importance for the competition for MLS to be in stride when the most important games matter.
“So hopefully with new leadership [at CONCACAF] and perhaps a better understanding of what would need to happen to make that competition more valuable for them and the rest of the countries in the region, everybody might be able to look at a different format. I think we are at a distinct disadvantage and I think it hurts the tournament.”
Four MLS teams will face off against Liga MX foes in the quarters, with D.C. United set to face Queretaro before the Seattle Sounders host Club América on Tuesday night and Real Salt Lake ready to take on Tigres and the LA Galaxy set to host Santos Laguna on Wednesday.
MLS clubs have traditionally had it very rough against Liga MX teams in the CCL knockout rounds, winning just two of 14 knockout series against Mexican clubs. The league’s respective schedules could play a role in that lopsided margin: MLS is still in preseason during the CCL quarters, while the Liga MX campaign is already in full swing.
Although advocating for a schedule tweak, Garber says he's not too worried about how any potential CCL quarterfinal result – good or bad – will affect MLS’s long-term prospects.
“You know me. 17 years, I don’t panic about anything,” he said. “I think we’ve got a tough bunch of match-ups, but if we win all of them, I don’t think anybody would be thinking Major League Soccer is going to be viewed any differently than if we only one won [series] or if we only won none. So I’m not worried about it. I’d like to win, though.”