Editor's Note: CONCACAF hipster Jon Arnold brings Goal readers stories and opinions from around the region in a weekly column.
Heading into this week's CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals, the Mexican teams are in a familiar position — on top.
Querataro and Tigres hosted their MLS opponents and travel to the United States with 2-0 advantages, while America and Santos Laguna both secured draws in the U.S. and host the second legs.
No matter if that advantage holds in the four quarterfinal series or if MLS teams strike back, beware of sweeping generalizations after the matches.
If the semifinal places are all taken by Mexican sides, plenty of detractors will try to convince you it's a sign that MLS is a horrible league. If a couple MLS teams make it through, it will be trumpeted as a success for the league.
Take both with a grain of salt. No matter the outcome of the series, both leagues are on the way up.
It's rare to see teams from these leagues face each other in meaningful matches. It's enticing to draw grand conclusions from these games. However, the sample size is very small, too small to learn any major lessons from.
Historically, the sample is a bit larger, and there's no doubt Liga MX has been superior to MLS in the tournament. We've also seen MLS grow, with the Montreal Impact's run to the final in last tournament and two teams getting to the 2012-13 CCL semifinals some examples MLS can point to as improvement.
For some reason, though, there seems to be a general consensus that while MLS has grown, Liga MX has stalled. Even players are expressing this idea.
"I think that if you see the Mexican league, it’s stayed in that level for the last four years," Robbie Keane told reporters ahead of Tuesday's match against Santos. "If you look at MLS, in terms of the first year I came here until now, you’d say MLS is on par with the Mexican league. As the Mexican league is staying, MLS is getting bigger, and it’s going to continue to get better."
The results on the field haven't quite worked out that way.
Liga MX has grown in quality, perhaps not as rapidly as MLS but still at an impressive clip. Like MLS, Mexican clubs have used their economic strength to bring in some of South America's top talents. Andre-Pierre Gignac is unique in Liga MX as a European star who elected to join the league, but he may be the first of many after an enormously successful debut season.
The league also is starting to see many of Mexico's rising stars take their place among the region's elite. El Tri won the gold medal at the 2012 Olympics, and some of those players are fixtures with Mexican clubs.
MLS continues on its path to match Liga MX, but thus far it hasn't been able to match the quality of its North American rival. That won't change when an MLS team finally wins the competition. It will only change with time and continued improvement. But just because MLS is growing doesn't mean the other leagues in the region aren't also on an ambitious path.
MLS markets itself far better than Liga MX, especially internationally where the Mexican league's efforts are pitiful. On the field, Liga MX still has the edge, even if all four of its clubs falter this week.
Having the quarterfinals work out to be four MLS teams against four Liga MX teams was fun and has made for (mostly) entertaining matches. There will be lessons for the losers to learn, but the picture the CCL paints is too blurry to provide real context.
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