By J Hutcherson – WASHINGTON, DC (Apr 30, 2015) US Soccer Players – One thing the Montreal Impact won’t be is the great what if of MLS. That tile holder will now and probably long into the future be the 2001 Miami Fusion. It’s what happens when a team that good wins the Supporters’ Shield and almost makes it to MLS Cup only to disappear a couple of months later.
Montreal is in a different category. Biggest overachiever in MLS history, maybe. Even that manages to flatter Montreal, putting them into a category with teams like the New York Red Bulls marching through the Western Conference playoff bracket in 2008. The Red Bulls are just one example of teams to upend the MLS playoffs, but they had to put together a competent regular season to slip into the postseason. It’s not a direct or fair comparison to the Champions League.
It was the Red Bulls that Montreal disrupted in the group stage, making their own case as a quasi-MLS representative by knocking out a fully MLS representative. Canadian Championship trumped Supporters’ Shield, and normally that would’ve been enough to silence any criticisms of Montreal.
Normally, but this is a team that was so bad during MLS play in 2014 that the criticisms carried right along with them. It was almost a how dare they moment, had more people been paying attention to Group 3. That’s the bigger picture problem with the CONCACAF Champions League. It only matters when it matters, and that’s normally in the knockout round.
MLS had already shown it wasn’t competitive. It’s champion couldn’t get out of the group. Alongside the Red Bulls, Sporting Kansas City altered the best case scenario. That left the comeback kings in DC and Montreal in the quarterfinals. The draw went against MLS. Had DC advanced, they would’ve played Montreal in the semis. Picking between those two as banner carriers would favor the 2013 US Open Cup champions, and once again highlight the issues with the best MLS teams botching the group stage.
It’s almost hard to underemphasize what really happened during the 2014-15 Champions League. Neither of the MLS entrants got out of their groups, recasting the later rounds as MLS teams representing the USA by way of the Open Cup and Canada tried their best.
That’s the fairest way to judge what Montreal did in the 2014-15 Champions League. Setting aside anything to do with MLS, they played their best. Somehow, someway, that was good enough to make a one-sided final. Somehow, someway, that got them to halftime of the second-leg in position to win.
What that asked of Montreal is way too much if we’re being fair, much less honest. This wasn’t a team designed with the Champions League in mind, unless we’re completely discounting how they play in MLS. They weren’t building on league form to compete regionally. They didn’t reload in the offseason with the idea that they were a bit of luck and a couple of bounces away from a trophy. This wasn’t Pachuca from a few seasons ago, seeing a clear path from domestic dominance, to regional, to showing they could compete (spoilers, they couldn’t) at Club World Cup level.
It’s that last bit that might need stressing. Montreal put themselves very close to representing CONCACAF at the 2015 FIFA Club World Cup. It’s easy enough to pile that onto the backhanded compliments delivered to Montreal once they advanced to the Champions League final, but really could they have done any worse?
CONCACAF embarrasses itself at the Club World Cup on a regular basis, something the Liga MX teams that represent the region have yet to figure out. That’s its own discussion, but the approach hasn’t changed. Liga MX has a club or clubs do enough to take the continental title, then they meet their obligation to play for the international one.
Montreal would have been just another CONCACAF team to see 3rd-place at the Club World Cup as the best possible outcome. Anything better than losing their opening game would’ve been job well done. Montreal as champions would’ve made little difference, highlighting the bigger competitive problem CONCACAF, Liga MX, and MLS all seem happy to ignore.
J Hutcherson started covering soccer in 1999 and has worked as the general manager of the US National Soccer Team Players Association since 2002. Contact him firstname.lastname@example.org.
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