MLS looking in on Champions final

don.ruiz@thenewstribune.comApril 24, 2013 

The Seattle Sounders will be spectators tonight as the CONCACAF Champions League final round begins.

So will all of Major League Soccer as CCL offers another all-Mexican final. Two-time defending champion Monterrey will visit Santos Laguna at 7 p.m. today. Then the aggregate-score series will resolve at 7 p.m. May 1 at Monterrey. Both games will air live on Fox Soccer.

This is the fifth time the club championship of North America, Central America and the Caribbean has been played in its current format, and the fourth time only Mexican clubs have survived to the end. The lone exception came in 2011, when Real Salt Lake reached the final but lost to Monterrey on 3-2 aggregate.

“You can call it excuses, but there’s just a difference in the level — still — between top Mexican teams and top MLS teams,” Sounders general manager Adrian Hanauer said last month. “When Real Madrid plays 15 other teams in La Liga, you can see the difference between two, three, four, five times the salaries. Given that, I was extremely proud of our performance through the Champions League.”

The Sounders were one goal from eliminating Santos in the semifinal round. Monterrey knocked off the Los Angeles Galaxy in the other semifinal.

Not surprisingly, the reason most often cited for Liga MX’s superiority over MLS is money. MLS clubs work with a salary cap set this season at just under $3 million — although the designated player rule allows actual roster payouts to sometime reach far in excess of that amount. Liga MX has no cap, and its top clubs typically outspend MLS clubs several times over.

“Not only is it the difference in overall salary, but it’s the balance,” Hanauer said. “If the L.A. Galaxy are spending $10 million a year, most of it is in three players, whereas the Mexican roster is spread. It’s $20 million spread over 20 players. And you can have quality, but you need quality across every position to be as consistently sound technically, tactically, physically as the teams are in Mexico.

“I do think we’re catching up, but if I’m frank, we’re not there yet. Anyone who thinks it’s because we’re not trying hard enough or because we get unlucky or because the refereeing isn’t good enough is fooling themselves. We can say we’re as good as they are, but in my humble opinion, we’re not.”

If there is any advantage to the Sounders’ CCL elimination — and their failure to qualify for the 2013-14 tournament — it is a reduced workload.

Had they advanced to the CCL final, they would face three games over the next 10 days, instead of one. Come summer and fall, they will be free to concentrate on two competitions — MLS and U.S. Open Cup — instead of three. But they say there is no consolation in that.

“Not for me, and I’m sure for the guys, the same,” coach Sigi Schmid said. “I’m sure when Champions League starts up and those Tuesdays and Wednesdays hit, those guys are going to be looking at the TV, saying, ‘Hey, we sort of miss being part of that.’ Sometimes you complain about something, but when you’re not part of it, you miss it.”

ADDED TIME

Forward David Estrada (eye) was medically cleared Tuesday for full participation. ... Seattle beat San Jose, 2-1, in an MLS Reserve League match in Tukwila. The Sounders moved ahead in the 57th minute on an own goal, and Will Bates scored in the 73rd minute.

Don Ruiz: 253-597-8808 don.ruiz@thenewstribune.com blog.thenewstribune.com/soccer @donruiztnt

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