It’s that time of year again, the weather is getting warmer, pollen is covering literally every surface of every object outside, the first Sunday after the first full moon following the vernal equinox is near, a weird discussion is happening about if MLS teams will do OK against sides from the Caribbean and Central America even though they pretty much always do, it’s time for the Concacaf Champions League.
Atlanta United faces Alajuelense of Costa Rica, a fearsome team that currently sits in first in the FPD Liga standings after winning the league last year. They’re so good at soccer, Atlanta will have to be very careful about how it goes about its first two games of 2021. They’re so good in fact that players from the team made up 1⁄3 of the roster that just went to Olympic qualifying in Concacaf.
How’d they do? In the first match they lost 1-0 to a USA team managed by the former coach of Orlando City who was fired midway through the 2019 season after being fired by NYCFC after their inaugural season and featured such youth C-team level stalwarts as Justen Glad, Jonathan Lewis, and team star player Hassani Dotson. The US then lost to Mexico and Honduras. As we can see, 7 of the Alajuelense players are on the level of the best youth players MLS has from the United States and excluding the ones who are good like Miles Robinson, Jeremy Ebobisse, and Keaton Parks. So, clearly the Ticos side has some talent.
A key player in the game will be Jurgens Montenegro who, aside from having a cool name, is so good that I won’t be surprised if he’s on the roster of a mid-table Second Division Spanish team in the next few years.
Next are the really experienced players. If there’s one thing that’s been shown time and again it’s that players who aren’t good enough to play in MLS and then go back to the the FPD Liga are really, really successful when it comes time for CCL.
Take Johan Venegas, or, as Minnesota United pundit Wes Burdine calls him, Johnny Vegas. He was a key member of the 2017 inaugural Loons team who joined after scoring two goals for Montreal Impact in 2016. Minnesota sent Chris Duvall to Montreal for him and if that doesn’t tell you how talented he is, consider that he also scored two goals in 2017 before being loaned to Saprissa, a deal that was made permanent after the Loons decided to let his contract expire.
Then there’s Bryan Ruiz. Yes, THE Bryan Ruiz, not some other Bryan Ruiz. The one who played for Gent, Twente, Fulham, PSV (loan), Sporting CP, and Santos. At age 33 he represented Costa Rica at the World Cup and now in his 35th year on the planet is playing for Alajuelense. He’s so good he didn’t even play in MLS so clearly, Atlanta will need to be aware of his immense ability.
Anyway, this brings me to my question: why do we do this? Why do we pretend that sports analysis isn’t just a grift?
As far as the comment of the week from last week’s incredible debate in the comments, here’s the winner of 490352pio58-30 Scarfcoin.