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Thursday, August 27, 2009
MLS in the CONCACAF Champions League
What a disgrace. It wasn't enough that, save for Charlie Davies, no one else in the national team showed up to play against Mexico at the Azteca. Now it seems even our best clubs fall to Mexican competition. And why is that? Two reasons: team depth and poor player decision on the pitch. DCU managed not to win...again. Never mind that it was against Meixcan powerhouse Toluca. No surprise there with an injury-ravaged and overcommitted team playing in three competitions with only 24 players. But at home again? This extends their inability to win in CONCACAF play since the end of the Champion's Cup two years ago. Sad indeed.
Then there's Columbus. They squandered the game early on when Cruz Azul went ahead by two goals in the first twenty minutes. A silly couple of fouls and they were down a man going into halftime. They looked dangerous in the attack, yes, but ultimately being a man down against a confident Mexican team was too much for the best team in Major League Soccer.
And what about Houston? The feisty Texan team just made their life harder by losing three players going into the next match, including midfield maestro Stuart Holden. They were even up on the scoreboard until the very last minute, when the Panamanian club was able to even out the score.
What have we learned here? Team depth. Yes, the economy is bad and this probably should not and will not come into play in MLS decisions for the time being. But it is worth to note that not having a reserve league hurts the league internationally and lowers the play in US Open Cup. Just ask the teams that lost against USL sides. I think that's the most important lesson. Teams always have a hard time playing in Mexico, that's a given, but we are certainly not going to have a strong showing there if we play the same guys that are busy trying to inch their team into the play-offs.
Oh, and the two ghosts of American soccer present: red cards and focus. These are the unfortunate fruits of poor decision both on and off the pitch. Players have to be smarter when they are involved in international play. More experienced clubs thrive on these situations. And the latter, focus, is to remind ourselves why we lost to Brazil in the Confederations Cup: we let the other team dominate until they scored. That's what happened to Houston yesterday. Now they will be without Holden or Ashe (pretty much the whole of the midfield) when they visit mighty Pachuca. Ouch.
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We are missing a good chunk of the top American players since they play in Europe. It will be awhile before we can simultaneously develop players overseas and have a strong domestic league.
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