Col­umn: Ma­jor League Soc­cer seeks re­spect in own back­yard

The Standard Journal - - LOCAL SPORTS - By Paul New­berry AP Sports Colum­nist

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.

/cur­tis comp­ton-at­lanta Jour­nal con­sti­tu­tion

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.

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