Expansion. Designated Players. Parity. Salary cap.
All of these words and more cover Major League Soccer in its current form. Some love to call it MLS 2.0 thanks to the boom in expansion clubs over the last several years.
Many want to jump the version number up a level right now to 3.0 thanks to the next wave of clubs that are set to join the league in the next seven years. New York City FC in 2015 followed up by four more clubs gives some folks a reason to believe that the time has now come to move MLS forward.
But I don’t buy it.
Expansion is still a 2.0 term in my book. Sure there can be expansion and what not in 3.0 when MLS gets there but MLS isn’t at 3.0 in my mind at all.
How come? Because no club in the league has been able to win a CONCACAF Champions League title yet. That is the last hurdle to get the league to that 3.0 level.
MLS commissioner Don Garber has a goal and a plan to get the league to become one of the world’s best by 2022 and I believe we can all agree that winning a CCL title has to be done before that can happen. That means beating Mexican teams in Mexico on a regular basis.
I know once upon a time D.C. and LA won the old CONCACAF Champions’ Cup in 1998 and 2000, respectively, but that is ancient history to where the league and the tournament is today. Back then it was a knockout style format that meant you didn’t have to go on the road as much to Mexico, Central America, and random Caribbean countries.
Today, MLS teams have 10 games to get it done. Half of them on the road. By the end of it, a MLS team is likely to have to go through at least two Mexican clubs to claim the title. Only one MLS team, Real Salt Lake in 2010-11, has ever come close to accomplishing this when they fell by a single goal at home in the final.
Results are improving each year for MLS teams though. The feet are becoming inches and for some are millimeters from winning it all. The new retention funds and desire from some clubs to spend (like in the case of Seattle with Clint Dempsey) show that teams are willing to put their best foot forward in this competition. Spending as much as our Mexican counterparts is still a long way off but we’re slowly getting there.
I’ve always been an optimist by nature so I do believe that MLS is close to this level. This 3.0 level. But seeing is believing for most and claiming a CCL title will without a doubt get the league to this 3.0 state.