Fans heading into the week hoping to see an all-MLS CONCACAF Champions League final certainly had their hopes dashed over the course of the past two nights, with both the Seattle Sounders and LA Galaxy dropping one-goal decisions at home to Mexican opposition.
The results may be more of the same as far as history is concerned, but at the same time, there is still plenty to draw from these games, and maybe a tiny bit of room for some hope for the future, as far as MLS' chances at the next level are concerned. Here's why:
1) We may have seen two of the best sides in CONCACAF clash at the Home Depot Center.
In the end, Monterrey scored two fairly simple goals against the Galaxy, who completely broke down after 80 minutes of solid play. But let's not let that take away from the attraction that was two of the best teams in CONCACAF matching wits.
There may be no two teams in their respective leagues, and indeed in the whole region, that have better talent and better coaching than the LA Galaxy and Monterrey, and it showed on Wednesday night. The two teams played an open, skillful game that saw plenty of good attacking thrusts countered by (mostly) strong defense and some back-and-forth, combative midfield play that still allowed room for players to showcase their technical skill.
Only one team will get to the final, and that team is likely Monterrey, but on Wednesday night, LA went toe-to-toe with the one of the most skilled, best-pedigreed sides in the region, proved a worthy adversary, even in defeat, and left plenty to look forward to in the return leg in northern Mexico.
2) "Playing well" is only a small part of the equation.
It's all well and good that both the Galaxy and Sounders looked comfortable in possession for long stretches of their game, but the lack of sharpness in the final third proved a near-fatal problem.
The Galaxy wasted plenty of good chances against Monterrey (and had a few well-saved), while the Sounders could not capitalize on their immense set piece advantage (not to mention their possession advantage), rendering all the solid play in the midfield and defense moot.
And this may well be where Mexican teams hold a huge advantage over their counterparts to the north – these teams, and especially their forwards, have a killer instinct and can finish in the most pressing of situations, whether, in Santos' case, it's immediately after a good chance for the opposition or, in Monterrey's case, when the opposing team is positioned to take a big step forward in the sreis.
3) Is a Monterrey-Santos rematch a given after the first leg?
Only a very brave person would bet against it, but that doesn't mean it's out of the question.
On the Seattle side, not only were the Sounders the first MLS team to top a full-strength Mexican side on the road (against Monterrey in the 2011-12 group stage), they then became the first team to eliminate a Mexican side in the knockout rounds a little less than a month ago, when they eliminated Tigres UANL 3-2 on aggregate. Traveling to Mexico knowing they all but need to score two goals with a final berth on the line is a different proposition entirely, but this team is developing a habit of making history, so why not score another huge milestone?
Things look even trickier for LA, who conceded two late goals at home, but there's still a sliver of hope. Not only are the Galaxy still a quality side, they're only going to get healthier and fitter before next Wednedsay.
While Monterrey have a league game – not to mention a playoff race – to consider over the weekend, the Galaxy have time off. This means three key players – Omar Gonzalez, Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan – will have ample time to recover from their national team exertions and injuries (in the case of Gonzalez and Keane) and gain further fitness (in Donovan's case). The Galaxy still have a mountain to climb, but having three of their best players even sharper than they were this week may give them a fighting chance.