I've been watching a lot of Concacaf Champion's League games this year.
I realize the appropriate response to that admission is "You have way too much time on your hands."
But I do find the tournament compelling. And I'm quite anxious for Sporting to get a shot at it.
By the way, I didn't say I find the soccer good. Sadly, it very often is not. It's very often just north of awful.
But, watching this tournament, I do start thinking this is, finally, on the edge of becoming something more. And that, to me, is compelling.
As it stands, this is a tournament between:
1. MLS teams, which all seem to take it seriously and who are improving noticeably each year recently (I thought the league regressed a bit after 2000, but that was probably me being partisan). The teams MLS sends all seem to know what they're about. Even Toronto. Toronto, however, is all about being a mess right now. Still, MLS games are always worth watching, if only at speed.
2. Mexican teams, which infuriatingly don't seem to take it as seriously in the early rounds, at least. To Mexican teams, you get the impression this is equivalent of their Europa League, only worth really caring about when you have an actual shot at winning. The Mexican teams, however, also seem to know what they're about. Their games are also worth watching, at speed (until the late rounds).
3. A collection of very uneven Concacaf clubs. Some, Saprissa for instance, are quite interesting to think about in MLS. Others, and Panama's Tauro stood out to me in this regard, seem overmatched in pure talent. But, the smaller nation teams do seem quite up for these games, from day one, and that's nice to see.
In any case, watching these games, and I watch them usually over two nights, having recorded them all (and really, how did man survive before the DVR? I mean, taping, really? That's no way to live. Might as well bang a couple sticks together.) has me thinking: Where is MLS right now?
Up front, I'm a Sporting believer, and I like MLS. But I watch way too much footie, and there's no way to match it up with top European leagues. That only makes sense. Top European league clubs spend a heck of a lot more cash than anyone in MLS, and talent flows to money.
Even so, watching this year's Concacaf Champions League, we look like bullies. We are England, bossing the early rounds.
(Editor's note: As of last night, MLS teams are 6-0-1 in this year's group stages -- including two victories by MLS teams in Mexico. Toronto and Dallas will play today after abandoning the match last night. Los Angeles is in action tonight.)
Gooch insists the MLS sides are more like Stoke City than Man United, but I'd note they're gonna lose to Barcelona, the way MLS sides are gonna lose to Monterrey or whoever else from Mexico gets hot. Sadly, Mexico is Spain. They're probably the victors, and when their good teams get rolling, they're more fun to watch.
But we send a lot of the stronger teams in this tourney. Over time, this sort of competition can only make MLS teams stronger. That's a change from a couple years back, when I thought this competition was a joke, and not a good one.
The next step: Can we get someone into the Copa Liberatores?