The last two days, I've been consumed with the USL. I'd never really given it much thought outside of Open Cup. I suppose since we don't have a team here locally, at least not in USL-1, it's sort of an out-of-sight, out-of-mind phenomenon.
But I'm starting to come around to thinking that the gap between MLS and the USL is very small.
Since Seattle tore apart Chivas and Colorado and nearly beat Dallas in the 2007 Open Cup, I paid more attention to the USL. I even wrote a column on the Sounders' run for the Press-Enterprise. USL teams knocking out MLS teams in the Open Cup is no surprise to me anymore, since MLS teams don't care about the USOC nearly as much as USL teams do.
There's more to it than just caring and wanting to win, though. USL teams are strong, stronger than many give them credit for. It's not a crackpot, glorified Sunday rec league. And if it is, well, MLS is too.
MLS has so many more advantages than the USL in terms of money and finances and players and talent and even within the scant media coverage given to soccer. MLS is more likely to get mentioned on sports highlights shows than USL.
Yet it's the USL teams who have been the story of this tournament, along with the Mexican teams of course. But the latter were expected to compete, to be there at the end, to continue to set the standard in CONCACAF. Not the USL. The second division. The place where MLS washouts go to prolong their careers.
I don't want to steal any of my own thunder as I wrote a column on this for SI.com. I talked to USL President Francisco Marcos at length yesterday, an interesting and great conversation. You'll have to wait for the SI.com column to come out, but Marcos did say that he thought for a while that if USL teams had the same chance as MLS teams, we'd see what we're seeing now. Something that didn't make it into the column:
Marcos said: I want to make it clear that to enter the competition was always something that was very important to us, just as it is important for our teams to enter the US Open Cup and to do as well as we can because given the overall problem, if I can label it a problem, of not having promotion and relegation, the only way we were going to be able to have any kind of comparative measure or to be able to show to the rest of the world that we to belong somewhere was by being able to play in the same competition where the MLS teams play and where other countries' first division or whatever the case may be also play.
And what happened when USL was allowed entry into the same international tournament as MLS?
Well, only four teams are left in the CCL. Three are Mexican. The other sure as hell isn't from MLS. It's Puerto Rico who rounds out the quartet.
But hey, MLS is the better league, right? MLS has caught up to the Mexican league because... uh what was that... oh yeah, SuperLiga. Right. Forgot about that.
Well, MLS can have the made-for-TV SuperLiga.
USL will be off playing with the big boys.