The CONCACAF Champions League is a grind. And after watching MLS teams go 0-for-4 against their Liga MX counterparts, I can't blame anyone reading this for feeling a bit of despair. The all-time records, the goals for/against, the fact that Liga MX teams lift this trophy every year is un-ignorable.
There were, however, positives. Three of the four MLS teams produced some legitimately good soccer even though none of them were really considered among the league's elite entering this season. Seattle played three different Homegrowns, each of whom had nice moments. D.C. got a golazo from their rookie central midfielder, and RSL continued to looked ageless through the midfield.
Most important, though, was that all those teams went toe-to-toe in their respective series -- there wasn't a lot of bunkering that I saw, and there was more than just a little bit of creative play. So even though the results were mostly the same as what we've come to expect in this tournament, to the eye test the whole endeavor looked quite different.
That doesn't change the fact that MLS teams went 0-4-4 and still have a lot of catching up to do. Portland, New York, Vancouver, Dallas and Sporting KC will all have a good five months to figure out how to close the gap.
Let's start at the Azteca:
Through two games, the Sounders have evinced a concerning habit of conceding immediately after they score. Tonight's version of CCL Fever lasted about 45 seconds before it was extinguished by a Darwin Quintero goal, and Oribe Peralta did the deed for good just minutes later. A Seattle team that had been very good, if not very threatening, through the first 40 minutes, fell apart in the lead-up to halftime.
To be honest, that was better than I expected in this series. Club America are really, really good, and the Sounders are rebuilding. So I thought this was going to be a slaughter. It clearly wasn't.
Arguably the biggest reason for that was the play of one Osvaldo Alonso, who set up Seattle's only goal and snuffed out dozens of attacks by the hosts. He also played as clean a game in central midfield as you could possibly have hoped for:
Osvaldo Alonso vs Club America (2 games).— Ben Jata (@Ben_Jata) March 3, 2016
95% passing accuracy
107 / 113 passes completed pic.twitter.com/XdBmMpl5Tg
Ozzie has always been, first and foremost, a destroyer. His superpower was his ability to range far and wide, covering touchline-to-touchline and box-to-box while occasionally adding numbers to the attack. He was the best MLS has ever had at that particular role.
But now his role has changed, and Sigi Schmid is asking him to sit and be more of a pure defensive midfielder, a No. 6 whose primary function is to protect the central defense from the run of play and cycle possession with smart, simple passing. Through two games against an MLS Cup-caliber opponent, Ozzie has proved more than up to the task.
Given his injury history, it's not clear how long this will last. The tread has come off his tires over the last couple of seasons, and so the Sounders have had to face the playoffs without him in 2014 and 2015. They suffered for it.
This time through, however, they clearly have a different plan. Alonso's being asked to do more mental and less physical work, and I'm going to wager that will be supplemented with the occasional 90-minute rest. Cristian Roldan will get chances to prove he really is the heir to that particular throne, and while I don't expect him to claim it outright, I do expect his cameos to keep Alonso fresh later into the season.
So this team's CCL run ended in disappointment, but there's a silver lining that should persist well into the regular season. And -- for the first time in years, perhaps -- beyond.
RSL were the better team in this series, and this was a cruel result. But if you don't convert your chances then you will lose.
That is a facile and dumb opening to this analysis, but it's what I've got. RSL lost this series because they fell asleep on a couple of set pieces in Leg 1 and because of stuff like this in Leg 2:
Like Seattle, however, they may have found a silver lining mixed in with the agony of defeat. Pretty much nobody had RSL as a playoff contender before this two-legged series, and they were the one MLS side most neutrals (myself included) considered no-hopers. But that was clearly well, well off the mark.
RSL will be very, very tough this year as long as they stay healthy, and as long as they don't have to go too deep into their attacking corps. The front four of Yura Movsisyan, Joao Plata, Juan Manuel Martinez and Javier Morales (stutter-step penalties aside) are skillful and smart and daring -- and already on the same page. They will carve teams up and pile on the pressure, which is exactly what happened to Tigres.
The concern comes from the potential absence of one or more of the above. Morales remains inimitable. And while I've long been a fan of Devon Sandoval, it's clear that the mobility gap between him and Movsisyan is large. Meanwhile, on the wings behind Plata and Martinez, there are mostly just question marks.
This isn't to say that RSL are doomed to some mid-summer tailspin when one of these guys go down -- the Red Bulls, for example, played basically all of last season without a significant injury to any of their attackers. It can be done. It just means that the margin of error is a little bit smaller than for the other playoff-caliber teams in the West.
Given where RSL were at this time last year, I'm sure their fans will take that deal. There's much more to this team than almost anybody thought, even if it wasn't enough to produce a moment of continental glory.