A shallow and uninspiring first leg in the CCL final means Monterrey and Santos will have all to play for at the Tecnologico next week.Herculez Gomez has been there and done that. As a member of Pachuca, the Mexican-American star accompanied the Tuzos to the 2010 Club World Cup, where they notoriously turned in one of CONCACAF's worst performances at the tournament since its inception in 2000.
Knowing full well that there's some unfinished business that needs tending to, Gomez was clear about his intentions just two days before Wednesday's first leg in Torreon.
"We want to transcend at the international level," the 31-year-old striker told reporters. "Not just anyone gets to play in this prestigious tournament. For me, this is another great opportunity to play it."
Gomez, of course, is the only American player on Santos' first team squad, with U-20 starlets Daniel Cuevas and Benji Joya, among others, not far behind. The Laguneros have, along with Tijuana, laid out a blueprint of sorts on how to properly embrace the globalization of soccer and bring the strategy to the Liga MX.
The team is owned by Grupo Modelo, itself a part of the Brazilian-Belgian conglomerate AB InBev. One of its top holding midfielders is Marc Crosas, a Spaniard and a product of Barcelona's fabled La Masia. Kenyi Adachi, a top prospect from the youth team, has Japanese heritage. In all, Santos Laguna fields players of seven different nationalities, representing four FIFA confederations.
Manager Pedro Caixinha is a young, hungry coach who has identified with fellow Portuguese manager Jose Mourinho, and popped up on Santos' radar thanks to the Real Madrid boss' recommendation. Together, the team is filing a quick turnaround after a mildly disappointing previous semester. On paper, it seems to have a much better shot of derailing Monterrey's CCL dominance this time around than it did a year ago.
Except Monterrey is the definition of been there, done that. Manager Victor Manuel Vucetich has won 13 titles. The club boasts the league's top earner in Humberto Suazo and his $3 million salary. Despite league struggles of late, the team has reinvented itself as a cup squad, and a damn good one.
So why was Wednesday night's 0-0 draw in Torreon so utterly boring? The Liga MX has made the CCL its own party, a shindig that sure enough has invitees from other countries, but who never have enough talent and luck to muster a real challenge in the end. The CCL final's first leg was disappointing, yes, but then again it's hard to ask two teams that have faced each other six times since 2012 to surprise one another.
Though the 0-0 affair must have been a hard thing to watch for LA Galaxy and Seattle Sounders players, coaches and fans, it's still a credit to MLS and U.S. Soccer itself that their progress has pushed old rivals to better themselves and reinvent their old ways in order to stay ahead. Perhaps the best solutions are the ones that have always been there.
Change the calendar. MLS set out to be different from traditional soccer in its inception back in the mid-'90s and it nearly failed. A large majority of those "innovations" have been removed, but continental success in the CCL (a tournament that, like the rest of the world, follows a more traditional calendar) will likely elude MLS if it stubbornly sticks to its schedule.
Elevate the salary cap. Monterrey and Santos are owned by huge corporations with tons of money backing them. But then again, so are a lot of MLS teams. If these guys are serious about their investments and committed to making the league an international player, wages for non-DPs will have to get closer to the very healthy amounts of cash mid-range players make in Mexico.
And so on, and so forth. If the 2012-13 CONCACAF Champions League was a particularly bitter pill to swallow, there's nothing to suggest that it will change soon. When a ninth place league team with more losses than wins in its domestic competition sweeps your league's reigning champion without a hitch, it's definitely time to look in the mirror.
Or, then again, you can always hope for the best and root for Herculez Gomez to wave your flag in Morocco.
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