Column: Major League Soccer seeks respect in own backyard
KENNESAW, Ga. (AP) — Major League Soccer begins its 24th season this weekend, still craving a smidgen of respect on the world stage.
Sure, the league keeps adding teams , building new stadiums and improving the quality of play. But MLS continues to be viewed by many as nothing more than a farm system-slash-rest home, a place where young players can develop and fading stars can collect a few more big paychecks.
If MLS wants to really demonstrate how far it has come in nearly a quarter-century, there’s no better place to start than right at home.
The league must show it can compete with its neighbor to the south.
Mexico’s Liga MX has dominated the CONCACAF Champions League, winning every title in the North American tournament since the current format went into effect in 2008.
Until that streak ends, MLS will always be viewed as a second-rate outfit, even in its own backyard.
“This tournament is a big deal,” said Michael Parkhurst, captain of reigning MLS Cup champion Atlanta United. “The onus is on us as players and us as a league to win this tournament at some point in the near future.”
While MLS begins its regular season with 10 games on Saturday (including the debut of its 24th franchise, FC Cincinnati), the Champions League is already up and running.
Four of its five representatives advanced to the quarterfinals, including Atlanta United, along with three teams from Liga MX. This next round should be especially telling, with three of the four matchups pitting the MLS against its Mexican rival.
In recent years, MLS has placed far more emphasis on CONCACAF’s 16-team tournament, viewing it as one way to raise the league’s lackluster global profile.
Atlanta United midfielder Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, right, celebrates his goal with Esequiel Barco, center, who had the assist, and Miles Robinson, against Herediano during a match on Thursday in Kennesaw, Ga.