Tom Marshall: Could MLS reap benefits Liga MX does from Copa Libertadores?

Former Chilean international and Toluca player Fabian Estay tells Goal that MLS could get the same benefit Liga MX does by participating in the continental competition.
If Liga MX sides can play in the Copa Libertadores, so can MLS teams.

That’s what former Chilean international and Toluca player Fabian Estay believes, despite the obvious difficulties of scheduling, travel and the implications for both CONCACAF and CONMEBOL.

“I don’t have any doubt, Mexico is in the same situation, (its teams) also have long journeys … I think it would be very important for (MLS) players, fans and league,” said Estay – who is currently an analyst on Fox Deportes shows La Ultima Palabra and Debate Final - in a telephone interview with Goal recently.

Sporadic rumors about MLS involvement fuel a fascinating reoccurring debate, but at present, only Mexican teams compete in continental club competitions of two distinct confederations.

This week CONMEBOL’s Copa Libertadores will battle for attention with the CONCACAF Champions League. Estay thinks it is a privileged position for Mexican soccer to be in, and Liga MX has benefited greatly from its invitations to South American tournaments.

“These types of competitions have generated the maturity that the Mexican player needs,” said Estay, who added there was a “before and after” point for Mexican soccer when El Tri was invited to the 1993 Copa America.

“Players dared to leave, now there are a lot of players abroad,” he stated. “Playing in South American tournaments at international and club level like the Libertadores led to an important growth.”

With his Chilean background and three Mexican league titles under his belt, 45-year-old Estay talks passionately about his experience playing in the Libertadores. He is happy to see the tournament being taken more seriously recently by Mexican teams, after a period in which clubs tended to prioritize the domestic league.

That is certainly the case with Mexico’s representatives this time out. Leon and Santos Laguna have rested players in the league to field their strongest teams in the Libertadores.

“What I like is that these coaches (Santos’ Pedro Caixinha and Leon’s Gustavo Matosas) have said, ‘For six months we’ll play the Mexican tournament and today we are going to play the Libertadores as if it was the last,’” said Fabian. “It is very important because it gives added value to a competition that for me is one of the most important in the world along with the UEFA Champions League.”

Fabian still thinks there needs to be work from the Liga MX on helping teams in the Copa Libertadores. For example, changing the dates of games to help teams involved in the continental competition, as regularly happens in South American leagues.

As for this season, both Leon and Santos Laguna have started well and top their groups, with La Fiera traveling to face Ecuador’s Emelec on Tuesday, and Los Guerreros away at Venezuela’s Deportivo Anzoategui, also on Tuesday.

Leon coach Matosas has stated his side will go to South America to attack, both at Emelec and in the Maracana against Brazilian giant Flamengo, something Fabian believes can reap rewards and is good for Mexican soccer.

“He’s a coach that isn’t afraid to say he’s going to wager on being an aggressive team, a protagonist, and that implies an important commitment to the fans and to the Mexican soccer they represent in the Copa Bridgestone Libertadores,” he said.

Fabian reckons that the Libertadores offers a good window for the likes of Carlos Pena, Luis Montes, Jose Juan Vazquez and others at Leon to shine and increase their chances of appearing in the World Cup, while he names Oribe Peralta, Oswaldo Sanchez and Darwin Quintero as the players most likely make an impact for Santos Laguna.

The early signs this season are positive for Mexico’s teams and, just maybe, one of Leon or Santos could become the first Mexican team to win the competition.

That would likely lead to the soccer world north of the border churning over the idea of MLS involvement in the Libertadores with that little bit more intensity.