Basically, it's time to dust off those ironic, yet endearing #MLS4Herc hashtags.
Herculez Gomez, MLS-castaway-turned-American-fan-favorite, figures to be the last link to the CONCACAF Champions League for U.S. soccer fans after this week's semifinal second legs are concluded. With the LA Galaxy and Seattle Sounders staring at deficits after their respective home legs against Mexican powers Monterrey and Santos Laguna last week, MLS is facing another season in which its attempt to secure regional glory comes up short.
That means another year when the CONCACAF Champions League trophy resides in Mexico. That means another FIFA Club World Cup with a non-MLS entrant from this region.
It is not as if MLS teams cannot compete with Mexican opposition on non-U.S. soil. That barrier has been chipped away slowly but surely in the last few years as the gap between Liga MX and MLS shrinks.
A gap still exists, though, and the statistics for MLS teams on Mexican soil are staggering. MLS sides are 2-23-4 all-time south of the border, with those two wins being 1-0 results in group stage matches in August 2011 (FC Dallas at Pumas UNAM and Seattle at Monterrey). Seattle just became the first team to eliminate a Mexican side in a two-legged tie after defeating Tigres UANL in the CCL quarterfinals last month.
Mexican clubs' rosters are deeper, which is a direct benefit of not being shackled by a tight salary cap structure, and the teams have been in season longer than MLS sides, who have been playing meaningful games for all of five weeks. As a result, any time MLS teams enter a knockout tie away leg at anything less than level pegging, the outcome is almost inevitable.
That is why Gomez's dagger of a rebound in Seattle last week zapped hope from an already-downtrodden Seattle team that lost 6-1 at Estadio Corona in last season's quarterfinals. And that's why the Galaxy allowing two late away goals to two-time defending champion Monterrey at the Home Depot Center creates an unenviable challenge even for a team boasting the likes of a recharged Landon Donovan and a fit Robbie Keane.
MLS has done its part to assist the remaining clubs on the CCL journey, demonstrating how much of a priority the competition is. The league has rescheduled matches to allow for bye weeks leading up to both legs of the semifinal ties, while Monterrey and Santos Laguna played Liga MX matches just days before each leg. In the end, though, it does not appear that advantage will be enough to negate the significant competitive edges that top Mexican sides boast overall, and especially at home.
There is a reason why Monterrey manager Victor Manuel Vucetich (12 final triumphs in CCL and league play in 13 tries -- with the only loss being to Santos Laguna in last year's Clausura) is so money come knockout time. This is a reason why Santos Laguna has never lost at home to a MLS team in the CCL (6-0-0) at Estadio Corona.
There are also reasons why teams play the games and don't settle matters based on history and projections, and it is not as if the tangible deficits that Seattle and LA face are insurmountable. Both Western Conference sides will do what they can to try and buck the trend and blaze a new path for MLS teams to follow. The combination of the deflating nature of the opening legs and all of the other outside factors, though, have the familiar, unwelcoming handwriting on the wall for MLS and its continental silverware-hungry sides.