Thursday, February 25, 2016

It Happened in North America: RSL go down, Galaxy bore out a draw

UANL 2-0 Real Salt Lake
Real Salt Lake, the weakest of the MLS clubs in the CCL, took on the defending Apertura champions in the first leg of their quarterfinal tie. They did quite well to hold Tigres down in the first half too. Although the Mexicans did control nearly two thirds of the ball, RSL did well to get some chances on the counter. Yura Movsisyan had a great chance late in the half that he skied over the target. Disaster nearly struck just before the halftime whistle. Kyle Beckerman handled in the box to award Tigres a penalty, but Nick Rimando held during and stoned the dangerous Andre-Pierre Gignac to keep it scoreless at the half.

The Tigres pressure finally paid of in the second half. Jose Rivas took advantage of some lazy early season defending from RSL to get his club in front in the 67th minute. In the 86th minute Jurgen Damm made it two and like RSL in a hole heading back to Utah.

Real Salt Lake is technically in the same hole as DC United is. Both are down 2-0 heading home for the second leg. Salt Lake, however, is a clearly inferior side playing against better opposition. The chances they mount the comeback are probably a little lower than their east coast brethren.

LA Galaxy 0-0 Santos
LA Probably has the best shot out of all MLS clubs to advance from this deadly quarterfinal round, a home win over Santos would be a great way to reach that aim. Early on, they looked the better team, but they also looked like a team that had never played together before. Their first half would have been a lot better if it weren't for their "I thought you were going to..." mentality. That said, they did creates some chances. Most were thanks to Emmanuel Boateng being a force down the right flank. Gio dos Santos had the best chance just after the 40 minute mark when he put a point blank shot right into the goalkeeper's chest.

The second half had a slower pace than the first did, and neither side looked like scoring a goal. The closest anyone came was when Santos flicked in a free kick that almost met the head of several onrushing attackers. It ended up going harmlessly wide. Galaxy was able to present a couple of chances of their own, but otehr than one move with Robbie Rogers and Gyasi Zardes, nothing all that fruitful came around.

The 0-0 scoreline is probably fair for the quality of this match. Galaxy looked like a team in their first preseason match and Santos looked like they barely cared at all. They were quite content to take a 0-0 draw back to the outskirts of Mexico City for the second leg.

Tonight we saw more of the same factors that show why MLS is ill prepared for this stage of the tournament. Sending four sides into knockout round games against mid-season opponents is a recipie for disaster. Every now and then we will see a story like last year's Montreal Impact side, but until something happens to this competition, Mexican sides will continue to dominate once they reach the knockout stages.

What are the solutions? The most obvious one is also the most impractical. A switch in the MLS schedule would remedy the problem of it's clubs being unprepared. MLS could also push it's schedule forward to start it's season earlier, but that could hurt early season attendance figures, particularly in northern cities where fans might not want to sit in the cold and watch early season soccer. The easiest approach would be petitioning CONCACAF to move these knockout round games to the end of March. That would give MLS sides a little more time to get to know themselves before sticking them in agaisnt the best clubs they will see all season without really hurting the form of the Liga MX entrants. Let's hope CONCACAF officials take note of what they see here from American sides and are able to adjust accordingly. If they don't the Champions League will continue to be nothing mroe than a way for Liga MX to display it's dominance over MLS.

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