Alright. Jokes out of the way first. Toronto FC, and by extension, Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley, choking at the last possible second against Chivas de Guadalajara really capped off what has been a miserable two years of disappointment for the USMNT. But this one was somehow even a little bit bigger of a choke job. The failed 2018 World Cup qualifying run was riddled with poor performances abbreviated by some good ones; TFC’s run to the championship before losing to one of the worst Chivas teams in recent memory was like watching a Mighty Ducks movie in reverse. They beat teams better than Chivas. Like, if this Chivas squad was a food, they’d be the Cincinatti Skyline Chili of Liga MX. They outlasted Tigres and tore through Club America only to be topped by some water dysentery-fuel on top of spaghetti.
The expert predictions certainly didn’t help things either.
.@AlexiLalas is calling it! Toronto will have "no problem" against Chivas and become the first MLS team to win the #CCL. Do you agree? 1st leg is tonight!— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) April 17, 2018
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As easy as it is to pile onto the Alexi Lalas gravy train, the Old Country Buffet of jokes, I’ll let it lie there.
What I actually want to talk about is MLS, Liga MX, the prevailing tides of CONCACAF and how, ultimately, the 2018 CONCACAF Champions League was a very, very good one for American soccer.
If we’re going to consistently praise process over results-oriented quantifications of the USMNT and their progress (or lack thereof), then lets apply it here, too. Despite Chivas somehow sneaking their way into the title match and then executing a smart gameplan against Toronto FC, in addition to taking advantage of some poor TFC play, an MLS team entered a final against a Liga MX team as the favorite for the first time in…ever. There was a more than decent chance that the final could’ve been an all-MLS affair. And teams were doing this with style, too. Sure, Toronto FC turtled and then relied on Giovinco’s heroics against Tigres. But at home? They attacked early and often, and did the same against Club America at home before taking the game to the Mexican giants at Estadio Azteca, scoring the first goal through Jonathan Osorio and effectively ending the tie with 70 minutes left in the game. Club Tijuana made Bradley Wright-Phillips look like Mo Salah.
Most of this is due to the influx of cash MLS sides have received in the form of Designated Player slots and Targeted Allocation Money, voodoo MLS currency that not many people really understand outside of “we get more money,” and also the shifting of the tournament’s knockout stages to come at a time that’s early in the season for both MLS and Liga MX. But even still, Liga MX teams had a not-insignificant advantage here: they had played a few weeks of league play before the tournament, where CCL games were still the first competitive matches of the season for MLS teams in the tournament, and the roster value disparity between the top teams in Liga MX and the top teams in MLS is still immense. Tigres, Chivas, America, and Tijuana all had club values exceeding 30 million pounds (per Transfermarkt), with Tigres coming in at a wopping 62.4 million. Toronto FC? 24.7 million pounds, while Seattle Sounders, New York Red Bulls, FC Dallas, and Colorado Rapids all stayed grouped between 14 and 18 million.
So, laugh all you like at Bradley and Altidore. Or FC Dallas’s still hilarious early exit, or the Colorado Rapids qualifying for this tournament, or Seattle performance in Mexico. It wasn’t the perfect tournament for any MLS team and there was still plenty of MLS-y moments. But this year’s tournament was a decided step in the right direction for the league, which is ultimately important for the broader game in the States. And for once, I’ll choose to look at the glass as half-full.
- Scorpion DOWN UNDA -
I am absolutely certain this is the first time I’ve included highlights from the A League in back to back weeks.
- Deep Frei-ed -
Yeah, Stefan Frei is gonna want this one back.
How that goes in is beyond me. On the other hand, neat-o moment for LAFC in their first ever home opener.
- The Kid turns 400 -
And got number 401 soon after, as David Villa netted a brace for NYCFC which found him reaching the 400 mark for professional goals.
- Emirates Escape -
Down a man after only 10 minutes gone, it looked like Atletico Madrid were in for a long night in London. And then everyone remembered that they’re Atletico Madrid, the defend and counter kings of Europe under Diego Simeone.
Antoine Griezmann makes something out of nothing to equalize for Atletico Madrid! pic.twitter.com/4JDSKgjQbH— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) April 26, 2018
A brief list of embarrassing things about this for Arsenal:
- And this can’t be stated enough, but they failed to kill off a game after being up a man for 80 MINUTES.
- Laurent Koscielny manages to kick the ball off his own face while attempting to clear it, giving Griezmann a perfect set-up.
- Griezmann then proceeds to celebrate with the Fortnite Loser dance.
It really doesn’t get much worse than that.
- This Flamengo fan and his life choices -
What’s the first MLS club to get a full body kit tattoo? My money’s on somebody from Orlando.
- And one last skill check for the week -