MLS licking its wounds

STEVEN SANDOR, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:23 PM ET

Major League Soccer celebrated its all-star game Wednesday night in Houston.

But, this is a league that is licking its wounds.

On Tuesday, as Toronto FC squeaked by CD Motagua 1-0 in the first leg of their CONCACAF Champions League qualifier, the Los Angeles Galaxy, the poster boys for the league, were embarrassed at home 4-1 by the Puerto Rico Islanders.

Yes, the Islanders, who play second-tier pro soccer.

The Galaxy started World Cup star Landon Donovan. MLS leading scorer Edson Buddle was shut down.

In the past, U.S. teams have been accused of not taking international play seriously — but this wasn’t the case with the Galaxy. Despite a few injuries, the team with the best record in MLS, the club that has given up just 10 goals in 18 league games, was hammered.

Yes, these are the same Puerto Rico Islanders who came within penalty kicks of the CONCACAF Champions League final two seasons ago, and they eliminated Toronto FC from the competition last season. If there is a team anywhere in pro sports that plays the role of Cinderella as consistently as the Islanders, I dare you to find it.

But this was the Galaxy, the runaway leaders of MLS. It was expected to breeze through this series.

Instead, giving up four road goals has put the CONCACAF Champions League out of reach for the Galaxy — in the qualifying round.

Imagine the play-in game winner thumping a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament by 20 points. Or a team from the pro hockey ranks in the U.K. beating the Blackhawks without a problem.

The Champions League continues to be a major issue for MLS. Despite being advertised as the second-best league in the region — of course, after Mexico — no MLS team has got close to the final since the tournament went to the round-robin format.

Last season, of the five MLS teams that gained entry into the competition, only one made it as far as the quarter-final — the Columbus Crew. Two — Toronto FC and the New York Red Bulls — were eliminated in the qualifiers, by teams from the Caribbean.

Meanwhile, year after year, we get all-Mexican finals. They dominate, proving the gulf between the leagues is wider than MLS would like to admit.

Last season, frustrated MLS commissioner Don Garber said the league had to put renewed focus on the Champions League.

“I’d like to see our teams do better... It’s important for us to win this tournament.”

He pledged that the league would look at the schedule to make sure the All-Star Game didn’t conflict with the CONCACAF games.

But, this year, the lure of Manchester United was too much. The league scheduled the All-Star Game a day after the Galaxy and TFC had qualifiers. And Seattle’s qualifier directly conflicted with the All-Star Game.

The Galaxy’s failure has to be a wake-up call.

steven.sandor@sunmedia.ca


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