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MLS Addresses Champions League

After heavy struggles in the CONCACAF Champions League since 2000, MLS is looking at ways to improve their showing in the high-stakes tournament.

Sounders FC technical director Chris Henderson is not pleased with Major League Soccer’s showing in the CONCACAF Champions League over the last ten years - a stretch that has seen no championships won by the US since the LA Galaxy won the tournament in 2000.

“It’s incredibly frustrating,” Henderson said. “There’s no reason why we can’t compete.”

Since the Galaxy won the annual tournament in 2000, the United States and MLS has not even had a representative in the final. In the nine tournaments that have been played since the Galaxy’s championship, only Mexico and Costa Rica have fielded teams in the finals.

Pachuca’s victory over Cruz Azul last week in the championship to win their third title in the last five tournaments was an exclamation point to MLS. Something has to change within the league to make them more competitive in the Champions League.

So the league has formed a subcommittee to analyze the issues that have plagued MLS in the international tournament. With the Sounders entrenched in the tournament in 2010-2011, Henderson has a strong hand in those discussions. Henderson joins Columbus Crew technical director Brian Bliss, DC United GM Dave Kasper and Houston Dynamo head coach Dominic Kinnear on the Champions League subcommittee.

“We want to see our teams doing well and be one of the top league in the region and up until now it’s been the Mexican teams that have done it,” Henderson said. “We do well in our home games and now we have to go down and win in Mexico. I think we are close, but it will take things like this to help us get over the hump.”

Henderson thinks the group, which is just one of several subcommittees that are addressing issues like referees and the reserve league, could not only focus on changes that can be made to MLS to help its teams compete internationally as well as internal changes that each team can make to help the players prepare for challenges they may face on the road in Champions League.

“You have to prepare the team mentally for things that you’ll deal with in the hotels – they may be playing drums the whole night – and other things off the field so you can focus on what you do on the field. It’s just different than what you’re going to face in MLS,” Henderson said. “I think we’re not far off. Our national team has done it and I think it’s time for our clubs to do it.”

Among the topics being discussed within his subcommittee are things like roster size and scheduling.  Even having the discussions is a huge step in the right direction, Henderson said.

“I think breaking things up and having people involved with it every day is going to help our league move forward much quicker,” Henderson said.  “These are decisions that need to be made.”

The Sounders will enter Champions League in the Preliminary Round in late-July.  From there, the qualifiers will be whittled down from 24 to 16 teams.  The final will take place in April, 2011.