The 2010-11 CONCACAF Champions League begins play tonight with the preliminary round. In that round, the Los Angeles Galaxy, currently the pacesetters in Major League Soccer so far, take on the Puerto Rico Islanders in the first of a two-legged tie at the Home Depot Center in Carson.
The next day, Galaxy boss Bruce Arena and four of his best players – U.S. national team star Landon Donovan, leading MLS goal scorer Edson Buddle, goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts and defender Omar Gonzalez — will fly to Houston to compete in the MLS All-Star Game against Manchester United.
You would think that MLS would be a little more cognizant of the fact that it’s hindering its top club’s chances of winning silverware this year by scheduling a meaningless friendly one day after a qualifying match in what’s supposed to be a major continental competition. Even Arena has come right out and said the All-Star Game is “secondary.” If Fabio Capello called up Jermain Defoe and Michael Dawson for an England friendly within a week of Tottenham Hotspur’s UEFA Champions League qualifying match, White Hart Lane and half the Premier League would be in an uproar.
MLS, however, still believes it has to sell both the game and its league to sports fans in this country, and let’s face it — the Puerto Rico Islanders won’t put fannies in the seats like Manchester United will. So it will continue to put the emphasis on these media circuses in the hopes that it will bring in new fans.
This post-World Cup period seems like a passing strange time for American soccer. Two of the biggest clubs in the Premier League came to America to face MLS squads and lost. Sure, Man United and Man City played a bunch of reserves and transfer targets in those games, but surely even United’s reserves, who won a Carling Cup two seasons ago, are good enough to run roughshod over a 10-man Kansas City Wizards squad. They didn’t.
The question, then, is does that say more about the quality of play in MLS than it does about the current state of Man United? And if so, then how much longer will MLS continue to put on these dog-and-pony shows before it starts taking winning its top continental competition seriously?
Given the lack of say MLS had in creating the CONCACAF Champions League, I suspect we’ll see them continue to put the emphasis on these friendlies for a long time to come. It’s a shame, too, because the Galaxy right now might just be good enough to win this Champions League, if it can keep its current roster intact through May. That’s too big an if, though, no matter what MLS says publicly. Even Landon Donovan has his price.