Analysis

A rising MLS tide offers unexpected benefits to growing Liga MX

Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

If MLS truly is catching up to Liga MX, that's a good thing for the Mexican league and El Tri.

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There’s no arguing Liga MX has MLS’ number. Even MLS’ brass concedes that.. With more CONCACAF Champions League titles, talent on the pitch and eyeballs on matches, Mexico’s top flight is the best that North America has to offer.

However, although Liga MX is likely to continue growing, a recent financial push from MLS is aimed at narrowing the gap between the two leagues.

Thanks to an influx of Targeted Allocation Money, MLS clubs have been able expand the depth of their rosters. In theory, this should bolster a league that has typically lived in the shadow of its Mexican neighbor.

Imagine what a more competitive MLS environment could do for other young Mexicans to develop.

With this in mind, it’s worth imagining the implications if MLS were to finally catch up. Undoubtedly, Liga MX is still superior right now, but it’s not unrealistic to think the two leagues existing on even footing could happen in the near future.

Would a stronger MLS be bad news for Mexico’s top flight? Actually, no. A level playing field for both leagues might produce some unexpected but positive changes for Liga MX.

Improved rivalry, competition in CCL

Since the introduction of the new CCL format for the 2008-09 tournament, no MLS club has ever won the title. Six of the eight tournaments have finished with all-Liga MX finals, with Real Salt Lake (2011) and Montreal Impact (2015) the only non-Mexican clubs to crack the final two.

This dominance has, at times, made the competition feel dull for fans. The pinnacle moment of the tournament tends to feel like an overhyped, mid-week Copa MX match.

What the CCL needs is a shake-up, something more talented MLS squads will hopefully provide. A title or two for MLS would force Liga MX to take the competition more seriously, which would then add more importance to a tournament that has consistently been a cake-walk for Mexico.

Intriguing rivalries might even develop if reinforced MLS rosters can start challenging big names south of the border. Forget the Cascadia Cup, the California Clasico or the Clasico Nacional for a moment. How incredible would it be to see a rivalry be between Club America and the Seattle Sounders? Or between Chivas and the LA Galaxy?

We are still far away from that kind of shift in the CCL, but the recent investment from MLS point toward positive changes for the tournament. There’s a small chance that investment could help FC Dallas or the Vancouver Whitecaps do something special in this year’s semifinals.

More vigilance on payment issues

On the field, it’s clear that deeper MLS rosters would help garner interest in the CCL and improve the rivalry with Liga MX. Off the field, it may also force Mexican teams to be more financially responsible.

Last year, it was reported that both Dorados and Chiapas had failed to pay wages on time. Although karma hit the Dorados when they were relegated last summer, stories of Chiapas’ late payments continued to emerge throughout 2016.

Despite a delayed intervention from Liga MX, the issue was a blemish for the league which is supposed to be the benchmark for CONCACAF competitions. In order for the Mexican top flight to continue as the best in the region, and potentially keep up with MLS, Liga MX will need to be more strict with any future payment issues.

Many players, including numerous talented Americans, have made the trip south to compete at a higher standard. Even it meant late payments, the true profit was playing in a more difficult environment than MLS.

A perfect example is that of DaMarcus Beasley, who made the move to Puebla in 2011. In search of regaining relevance with the U.S. men’s national team, and perhaps finding a club who could match his salary demands, the American took a risk by joining Liga MX. Beasley dealt with late payments from Puebla but was also able to gradually revive his international career. At the time, the risk was worth the reward, but could the same be said in the near future?

If the quality of competition in MLS was on par with Liga MX, players would choose MLS over financial uncertainties. This isn’t just for U.S. players either, but any prospective options who are eyeing North America.

Delayed payments are usually more of a problem for the lower-tier clubs in Mexico, but it’s still a problem present in the leagues. In order to keep pace with MLS, Liga MX would need to eradicate even the perception of any wage issues.

Coupled with MLS’ depth of talent, fixing these payment issues could also lead to some interesting player movement.

Stronger MLS means favorable transitions to, from Liga MX

Assuming that both leagues reach an equal playing field, this then widens the pool of skilled options who could join Liga MX.

If certain MLS squads are suddenly filled with noteworthy and accomplished names, a lateral move for players to Mexico would help Liga MX. For numerous clubs, especially big ones such as America and Tigres, that means more talent nearby to possibly snatch up from a larger selection of enticing players.

It’s also important to keep in mind the opportunity that this could provide for young and promising Mexicans. With diminished roles in many Liga MX rosters, MLS could become a fascinating alternative. This wouldn’t directly support Mexico’s top flight, but it could help the national team. That isn’t to say that Liga MX wouldn’t be good enough for these budding Mexican stars. A stronger MLS competition would just open the door to several other clubs who could produce a similar experience.

For Mexico fans who are perhaps skeptical of young talent moving north, a quick look at Carlos Salcedo’s career is an excellent reminder of what MLS has to offer. After spending a few years with Real Salt Lake’s academy and senior team, the player later returned to Guadalajara as a confident central defender. Now, the 23-year-old is on loan with Serie A’s Fiorentina.

Imagine what a more competitive MLS environment could do for other young Mexicans to develop.

Looking ahead

Despite the possibility of players leaving Liga MX and a likely drop in Champions League titles, the pros of MLS’ improvement outweigh the cons for Mexico. The CCL would be more intriguing to follow, the rivalry between MLS and Liga MX would get stronger, financial responsibility would improve and a new batch of neighboring talent would be available to bring over.

As for Mexican soccer as a whole, having more established and ambitious organizations in the U.S. to play for is a plus. More opportunities and minutes, in a similar tournament, would be highly advantageous for the the Mexican national team system.

MLS still has a ways to go before catching Liga MX, but once it does, fans of the Mexican league shouldn’t feel too worried. In fact, they should feel thrilled.

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