Major League Soccer has visions of being the dominant league in the CONCACAF region and one of the top leagues in the world.
They aren’t there yet, but with the Sounders FC and LA Galaxy reaching the semifinals of CONCACAF Champions League, marking the first time MLS has been represented by two sides that deep in the tournament, they are inching closer.
Last Friday, Sounders FC owner and general manager Adrian Hanauer took no solace in the 2-1 series defeat to Santos Laguna, but was proud of level of his team.
“There’s just a difference in the level, still, between top Mexican teams and top American teams. Given that, I was extremely proud of the performance through the Champions League,” Hanauer said. “It’s reality. I thought we actually played extremely well through CCL. I was very happy with the team.”
Although a Mexican club will win Champions League for the fifth straight year, as Santos will meet Monterrey in the final, the chasm between the Liga MX and MLS has shrunk to a much more scalable gap. There are many factors contributing to that growth in MLS, including the continued develop of young players within American soccer and the ability to attract more and more top-level talent from abroad.
However, that top-level talent is limited to a select few on each roster. While total salaries are growing closer together, those contracts are going to just three players on MLS rosters while they are being spread over the entire field in Liga MX, creating much more balance within each team.
“You can have quality, but you need quality across every position to be as consistently sound technically, tactically and physically as the teams in Mexico. I think we’re catching up, but if I’m frank, we’re not there yet,” Hanauer said. “If we keep doing the things we’re doing, as our Homegrown systems get more developed and we spend more on players to bring more quality players in, we will catch up and pass Mexico.”
Now out of the CONCACAF tournament, the Sounders focus is placed solely on the MLS calendar for the foreseeable future. However, the experiences gained over the 26 CONCACAF Champions League matches Seattle has played since first gaining entry into the tournament in 2010 have the Sounders much more prepared for challenges ahead in other competitions.
“I think that it’s helped the team mature and lost some of the naiveté because playing in those games is difficult,” Hanauer said. “To be able to beat Tigres and go down to Santos and tie a team like that, I think there will be positives that come out of it, but we need to start showing it on Saturday.”