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The Importance of the CONCACAF Champions League to MLS

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In order to gain respect for the league, a team from MLS must capture a continental title

Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

In the 2015-16 iteration of the CONCACAF Champions League, fans of MLS once again watched as teams from Liga MX eliminated all MLS opposition without too much trouble. In fact, not one of D.C. United, Real Salt Lake, Seattle Sounders or LA Galaxy could manage a win in either of the two legs, all four teams either lost or drew to Mexican opposition. Last year, Montreal Impact made it to the final, securing an initially promising first leg 1-1 away draw against Club America in the Estadio Azteca, only to get smashed 4-2 at home behind a Dario Benedetto hat-trick.

While the MLS is still a "young" league, with the amount of investment that has been pumped into the league, a team should have won the CCL since its rebranding in 2008. Granted, LA Galaxy and D.C. United won it in its previous format, but LA won it most recently in 2000, and most MLS fans would agree the league has improved significantly since that time. Furthermore, since the CCL was rebranded in '08, only Real Salt Lake and Montreal Impact have made it to the finals, in 2011 and 2015 respectively, and no team will be able to do that this year, as they've all been knocked out.

It may be hard for those MLS fans unaware of how important continental competition is in other confederations like UEFA or CONMEBOL, but the CCL should be the measuring stick to see how MLS teams can compete with other North American teams, specifically those from Liga MX. It's hard to know how excited MLS fans would be about a CCL title, or what that would mean for MLS teams financially, but even without these things, at some point a MLS team must show it is capable of winning the ultimate North American prize. Winning the CCL provides entrance into the Club World Cup, and though the value of that competition is debatable, it would allow a team from MLS to potentially test themselves against the best of European or South American opposition, which would truly show how good MLS teams really are in comparison.

Mexican teams are currently allowed to participate in the Copa Libertadores, undoubtably one of the best competitions in the world, which seems odd that they are the sole representative of CONCACAF in the tournament. There are a whole lot of reasons why MLS teams shouldn't get involved with this tournament, but likely the main reason is that MLS teams have shown they can't compete with Liga MX teams in the CCL, and a Mexican team has never won the Copa Libertadores, so MLS doesn't deserve it. And that is pretty sad, it's kind of like knowing you can't go to a party, but you still want to be invited, and MLS didn't get an invitation.

Quite honestly, winning the Champions League would be absolutely fantastic, and one MLS team has the opportunity to be the first (in the current format), which will be great bragging rights material. Atlanta United could be that team, and that would be very, very exciting.

What it comes down to is how seriously MLS teams will take the CCL, or even if they can afford to take it seriously with the packed schedule of MLS. Teams may choose to play weakened sides to prioritize their respective league campaigns, or in order to avoid injuries. This would be an unfortunate reality for the future of the CCL, and hopefully teams can recognize the importance of maintaining a presence in the continental game, rather than focusing only on domestic league competition.