Thursday, March 12, 2009
TAMPA, FL – It may only be one tournament, but the Champions League performance speaks volumes historically, and firmly stages an argument that the USL First Division is among the CONCACAF elite with the Mexican Primera Division and Major League Soccer.
In its first appearance since MLS began participating in CONCACAF’s club championship event, USL-1’s combined campaign by the Montreal Impact (Canadian qualifier) and Puerto Rico Islanders (Caribbean qualifier) has already surpassed numerous other leagues. The 10 victories, to date, has eclipsed the win totals of six leagues that have had more tournament appearances since 1997.
Ironically, Puerto Rico’s surprise 1-0 win in Honduras against Marathon put USL-1 ahead of that league’s total of nine wins in 11 appearances, also leading the matching six wins in 10 appearances by both Guatemala and Trinidad & Tobago. It also betters Panama (5 wins, 4 appearances), El Salvador (3 wins, six appearances) and Jamaica (0 wins, 5 appearances). Only Costa Rica (23 wins, 18 appearances), MLS (37 wins, 29 appearances) and Mexico (66 wins, 31 appearances) have more.
The win total is also a large component of the point percentage (points/points possible) numbers – if points were assigned to all matches – that also place USL-1 among the elite of the confederation. Regardless of Puerto Rico’s future results, the .600 point percentage USL-1 currently holds will adjust to finish no worse than the second-best amassed since 1997, and could even surpass Mexico’s current mark of .608.
While comparing one year’s performance to that of Mexico or of MLS (.466) and Costa Rica (.461) could be construed as unfair, it clearly stands head and shoulders above Honduras (.354). Based on single-event point percentage performances, however, Costa Rica and Honduras have only surpassed .500 in a tournament once each since 1997. USL-1 is guaranteed to join them on that single-event list along with MLS (5) and Mexico (9).
Of the dozen leagues that have been represented in CONCACAF’s championship since 1997, USL-1 is among the elite list of five who have reached the semifinals, joining Mexico (23 appearances), MLS (14), Costa Rica (9) and Honduras (1). While the other four have all also reached the championship match or series since 1997, Honduras is the only league that has not won a title. In that span, Mexico has won seven while Costa Rica and MLS each have two. Major League Soccer’s two titles both came when the United States played host to the event, as did MLS’ other championship game appearance.
On the subject of semifinals and finals, the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup has shown of late that the US-based clubs in USL-1 are not exactly far off the mark either considering the league’s primary opposition in the tournament is Major League Soccer.
USL-1 has seen three semifinal appearances and a championship appearance in the past two years with a combined US Open Cup record of 6-9-3 (W-L-D) against Major League Soccer teams. Including the newly-launched Nutrilite Canadian Championship, which propelled Montreal into the Champions League, USL-1 is 7-10-4 over the past two years total in official competition. Seattle claimed the 2007 USL-1 championship after overtime elimination in the tournament semifinals in 2007 and returned to the final four again in 2008, falling to fellow league member Charleston, who narrowly fell 2-1 in the 2008 Final to DC United, a participant in the Champions League.
The other Canadian club, Vancouver, has also displayed the depth of USL-1 beyond that of Champions League participants Montreal and Puerto Rico – showing strength in league play, particularly against both sides. The Whitecaps narrowly missed out on the regular season championship, finishing just one point shy of the Islanders. They would, however, go on to claim the playoff championship, posting a 2-1 victory at home in the Final. Against Montreal, it was a complete reversal in league play from their two defeats in the Canadian Championship. Vancouver was 2-0-1 versus the Impact in their three regular season meetings and slipped by the Champions League stars 2-1 on aggregate (1-0 road loss, 2-0 home win) in the USL-1 Semifinals.
As shown previously by the Champions League numbers, USL-1 is arguably superior to Honduras in the region, but the depth of the league, taking into account league and domestic cup competition, may also be superior to Costa Rica – a league in which two clubs, Alajuelense and Saprissa, have dominated the league and account for 16 of the 18 Costa Rican appearances in the CONCACAF event since 1997.
Let the debate begin.
By the Numbers: The CONCACAF Champions League Data [+]