CONCACAF.com Guest Analyst
Oh, how the tide has changed in the CONCACAF Champions League.
Morelia, Pumas and Santos Laguna all lost at least once match in the first three rounds of the Group Stage, while defending champion Monterrey dropped two of their first three, including a loss to the Seattle Sounders at home.
Over the past couple of years, we might have seen a Mexican team or two drop a point here or there, but nothing like what we saw to start the season. It wasn't until the quarterfinals where coaches leaned toward using a "full strength" line-up similar to its regular league matches.
That mindset held true to start this season's Champions League, until the bad results mounted quickly, and, with at least one coaching change, helped alter attitudes.
In the past two weeks, we've seen some of the biggest names in Mexican soccer take the field in mid-week against the likes of Isidro Metapan, Toronto FC and Comunicaciones. And the changes resulted in seven wins in eight matches played by Mexican teams over the two weeks.
There is always an exception, and Morelia was able to get a 2-0 victory over Motagua on Thursday despite not using any of the starting 11 from its previous weekend match and not having manager Tomas Boy with the side in Honduras.
On the other hand, American-based MLS sides, who employed more reserves, won only once, lost six and drew the other.
With the exception of Toronto FC, MLS teams were incredibly dominant in the first two weeks of Champions League play, and one has to wonder if Real Salt Lake's run to the finals in April motivated coaching staffs around the league to play with their strongest possible lineups to start out the tournament.
But we've seen a change as of late, and it could come down to a couple different ways to look at it.
How much does a team's seeding in the MLS playoff race come in to play? That answer is easy - a ton.
The LA Galaxy, Seattle Sounders, FC Dallas and Colorado Rapids had the four best records in MLS when the tournament started. But over the course of the last five weeks, Seattle, Dallas and Colorado have slid and coaches have become tentative to roll out their best XI knowing full well that fatigue, injury, form and movement in the run up to the playoffs have changed.
Has the confidence of winning multiple matches in the first two weeks led to coaches giving squad players more opportunities to play in Champions League games? Arguable.
The LA Galaxy took six points from its first two matches and has lost two games since. Seattle won its first three (including on the road against Monterrey) yet proceeded to lose 1-0 at home to Herediano in its supposedly "easiest" game in the group.
Dallas earned seven points in its first three - including two away wins, then faced a full-strength Pumas side at home and lost 2-0. And Colorado had a win and draw from its first two matches and have lost both games since.
What's more important to coaches - MLS or CONCACAF Champions League? Debatable and depends on the team.
We all know that coaches jobs' are based on MLS league play, not Champions League. That being said, it's an incredibly difficult position to be in to have to make the decision to commit to qualifying for the quarterfinals next season when the prize is MLS Cup in November. Throw in the playoff race, and where a team finds itself at when the tournament starts, that's another animal.
Could MLS headquarters make life easier for teams competing in CCL by allowing the roster to be deeper and salary caps to be more flexible to deal with all the intangibles that go along with this tournament? Absolutely, but what affect would that have on league play?
It's going to be very interesting to see which direction MLS coaches go as far as their starting lineups are concerned in these final two games of the Group Stage. Definitely something you'll want to keep an eye on.