So the other day I knew this conversation would happen, as RSL fans were faced with a decision on who to cheer for in the MLS Cup Playoffs. If LA beats FC Dallas and makes it to the MLS Cup, then RSL would get another CCL spot next year (not a group stage spot, but a qualifying spot). If FC Dallas wins they will go to MLS Cup and get a CCL spot and RSL would end up in SuperLiga (the most pointless tournament ever). Of course there is also the US Open Cup to think about, a tournament that has never been nice to RSL but I would love to see us do well in.
All of that and we already know that RSL will have two very early matches next year, and possibly 6 matches if they progress to the Champions League final as I expect. So the MLS schedule is moving from 30 to 34 matches in 2011, RSL could have 6 additional CCL matches for the 2010 version of the tournament, they will have at least 1 US Open Cup match, and either (3-5 SuperLiga) or (2 2011 CCL qualifying matches). It means that no matter what it will be a very busy year for the team, but as a fan I am torn between which means more?
There were 3 teams in the MLS Cup playoffs that were also in the CCL group stages this year (RSL, Columbus, and Seattle) and none of them advanced past the first round and none of them could even win their playoff match at home. Is it just a coincidence? Not sure if I believe in them, and while I know that many would say that the two are unrelated, we know that RSL had to travel over 20,000 miles in CCL this year and while the recover time before the playoff was plentiful.
more after the jump:
One has to wonder about the overall wear and tear on the players, I believe strongly that the small nagging injuries that a few RSL players had towards the end of the year and in the playoffs had a large impact on the teams performance. In watching the play of Alvaro Saborio the last couple of matches it was clear that something was wrong, he was slower, less aggressive, and almost constantly out of position (offsides) as opposed to how he played earlier in the year.
So which do you value more?
Lamar Hunt US Open Cup- a tournament that should be the biggest one in the United States but has been treated like an afterthought by MLS and most MLS teams. DC United and Seattle are the two MLS teams that seem to take it the most importantly, but I would love to see RSL make a real run at it. This is the Championship of US Soccer, and I can only hope that one day it is take as seriously as the same types of tournaments in Europe.
SuperLiga- a made up, made of Spanish TV tournament that features the non CCL qualifying MLS playoff teams (most often) and a group of non CCL qualifying teams from Mexico. I can't tell you how much I hate this tournament, it just seems fake, but MLS (more importantly SUM) loves it. In fact the teams from MLS that take part in it, have in the past gotten their MLS schedules cleared of matches so they can participate in the tournament. It would be nice if they would do that for the CCL, but SUM doesn't control that tournament. There is a good chance that RSL will end up with this as their reward for their 2010 season, not much of a reward in my opinion, but the upside is that the winning team is supposed to get a $1 million dollar prize, but in the past MLS (and SUM) would have claimed most of that and I am not sure how the new CBA deals with it.
CONCACAF Champions League - I love this tournament but with the extensive travel, the odd schedule, and a busier MLS season in 2011, I wonder if qualifying for the next round is in the best interest of RSL. I do think we should put 100% behind beating Columbus and winning the 2010 version of the tournament, but do I want us to be in it next year as well? The CCL drags on for months, nope years in its full scope. The qualifying round started in July 2010 and the finals will take place in late April 2011, then of course the winner goes to the FIFA Club World Cup (with its $5 million dollar first prize) which will take place in December 2011 in Japan.
Supporter's Shield - some say this is the real championship of MLS, the Columbus Crew would have you think so after they won it last year but lost in the playoffs. LA is already claiming that winning it makes them the best team in MLS. There is some validity to the argument, if there were no playoffs then this would clearly mark who was the best team in MLS, but right now it simply means you won the regular season. It is something RSL came very close to in 2010 and I would love to see us win it in 2011.
MLS Cup - In the United States winning the playoffs is what it is all about, nobody cares who had the best regular season in the NFL, it is about who won the Super Bowl, or who won the World Series. Last year we saw the run that RSL made in the playoffs and many of us have nothing but great memories of the trip to Seattle and the joy of winning MLS Cup. From the flags, banners, hats, shirts, scarves, to the Champions Rings, MLS Cup is the pinnacle of success in MLS in my opinion.
All of the choices are going to be impacted by a number of factors, salary cap size, roster size, return of the reserve division, expansion draft, the longer MLS season, and oh so many other things. I believe it is too much to expect a team as they stand today to dominate in all these areas.
I go back to the simple fact that, Houston won MLS Cup in 2007 and in 2008 they played in the CCL group stage and lost in the first round of the 2008 MLS playoffs. The Columbus Crew won MLS Cup in 2008 and in 2009 they played in the CCL group stage and lost in the first round of the 2009 MLS playoffs. RSL won the MLS Cup in 2009 and played in the 2010 CCL group stage, and lost in the first round of the MLS playoffs. So yes I am OK with us perhaps missing the 2011 version of the CCL.
So the question is which one means more to you?
OFF MY SOAPBOX