Since I've been called out by name on this topic, I might as well respond. For those of you just joining us, this is how I saw the CONCACAF Champions tournament:
And this week we come to grips with the harsh reality that we won't be able to live vicariously through a Real Salt Lake re-enactment of "The Bad News Bears Go To Japan." The Major League Soccer Soccer webpage is no longer bordered in black. Seventeen other teams have miraculously come back into existence. Our willingness to glom onto Salt Lake's success is not matched by a similar willingness to share their pain.
The existence of part-time, casual, half-hearted MLS fans is something very new, and MLS4RSL encouraged this. Good wishes instead of diehard support. Pleasant notes, not offensive signs. Twitter posts instead of pledges of loyalty. Sunshine patriots and summer soldiers.
I realize if I were an owner or a general manager, I would not be so quick to dismiss casual looky-loos. But this was a campaign aimed at die-hard supporters of other teams. Such a thing is unnatural, dissatisfying, and ultimately self-defeating.
For example - and maybe only the most mean-spirited DC United and heartless Galaxy fans are along with me on this - but I seem to remember a lot of blathering on how a continental championship doesn't count if it is won at home. Well, turns out winning at home when it counts isn't as easy as it looks. Maybe next time we have a team go deep in this tournament - probably around 2019 or so - we won't pretend that it's never happened before, or that previous times didn't really count, and that nothing tastes better than the Flavor of the Week.
The reason Salt Lake lost - well, hell, I don't know, but it shouldn't have happened. "Gee, we couldn't tie without Kyle Beckerman" is just another way of saying "Gee, I guess we didn't deserve to go to World Club Cup." It wasn't like Monterrey wasn't missing di Nigris. Besides, back in 2009 Salt Lake overcame missing Javier freaking Morales to win MLS Cup in the first place. I thought the team was the star.
Yeah, that's harshpuppies to Salt Lake, and diminishes what they did achieve. Now that I can't use Salt Lake's success to feel good about soccer in my country, I'll use their failure to feel good about my club. Not being a Salt Lake fan makes that easy. Behold once again the peril of making the opinions of non-Salt Lake fans relevant when it comes to Salt Lake winning or losing.
Yes, Salt Lake fans can fire back with witty cracks regarding a certain American territory in the Caribbean, or the virtue of being able to win games on neutral fields, or how easy it is, percentage-wise, to make penalty kicks. But that's part of the fun!
But Matt asks the macro question, and it's surprisingly easy to answer:
Money. Central American clubs have taken the advice of promotion and relegation advocates: they have a single table, have promotion and relegation, and slightly more to the point, have no salary cap. Saprissa is owned by Jorge Vergara, and he can spend what he likes.
At this point, of course, we fall into the argument that usually invokes the phrase "training wheels." I mercilessly mocked someone or other last week for saying that rich people should invest in MLS and buy great players. However stupid an idea that may be, it will come in handy if we want to win things like the CONCACAF League.
The MLS salary cap was always more of a salary beanie. Now, it's more like a salary toupee. What with designated players and allocation money trades and such, I don't think it's unreasonable to suggest that teams spend pretty much what they think is appropriate. The way the designated player rules are written, there's absolutely nothing preventing Maple Leaf Sports or Phil Anschutz or Jorge Vergara or Paul Allen from bidding against Manchester United or Real Madrid for one or two players.
They don't, though. The dumbest purchase of the DP era was the original DP - and he paid off handsomely at the box office. The hivemind groupthink at MLS has spoken - and so have the very, very different assortment of people who have bought in over the years. They want to spend enough to compete in the league, and they want to spend enough in order to theoretically turn a profit in the short term while building a brand in the long run.
That line of thinking is not compatible with a Cosmos breaking the bank on a vanity all-star team, and a bunch of clubs spending themselves into oblivion trying to catch up. Turns out it was hard to sell season tickets to see Not the Cosmos, harder still to sell tickets to This Team Has No Chance of Winning, and hardest of all to sell tickets to We Have No Advertising Budget and Can't Even Pay Our Players.
It may be time to admit that MLS doesn't spend what it would take to dominate CONCACAF for the same reason the Old Firm doesn't spend what it takes to compete in the Champions League. They don't need to, and the upside isn't big enough.
The current system of MLS, by the way, is bringing in a golden age for small markets. Expansion teams in non-traditional markets compete much, much more quickly in MLS than in other American sports. Which means the system works wonderfully for fans in, hm, need an example of a small American sports market with a team doing very well in MLS...I'm sure I'll think of one.
Anyway, that's the macro reason why MLS doesn't compete and defeat Mexican teams invariably - they're bigger and richer, and it's not worth going bankrupt yet trying to beat them. We white-knuckle it against inferior opposition - well, let's be fair, we are the inferior opposition - but we will live to fight another day. Home is where the heart is.