It seemed if any Major League Soccer club were poised to claim the league's first victory aganst a Mexican club on Mexican soil in a competitive match, it was the Columbus Crew.
A near-immaculate record and impressive statistics to boot, Columbus went into Mexico City's Estadio Azul on Wednesday determined to make history. Instead, the Crew suffered an embarrassing, all-too-familiar fate. Cruz Azul routed the MLS Cup champions 5-0.
It seems like a bad joke. Or at least a cruel one. MLS teams head to Mexico with high hopes of winning only to leave with their tails between their legs, wondering what happened. Stories like these have played out across Mexican league stadiums with growing rapidity. With the CONCACAF Champions League expanding to include a group phase, MLS teams get more chances to go down and lose in Mexico.
In the first season featuring the new format, MLS teams made a tiny bit of progress. Houston was the first team to not lose a match against Mexican teams on Mexican soil as the Dynamo tied Pumas 4-4 during last year's group stage. But that progress was lost when Houston was soundly beaten by Atlante 3-0 in the quarterfinals.
This season, MLS entered the competition with three chances of seeing a team make history. Columbus had the best opportunity. To say the Crew entered the match on a hot streak would be understating it somewhat. They had six consecutive victories before the match, including a 2-0 win over Puerto Rico in their Champions League opener. Four of those wins were by shutout, and the Crew had allowed just six goals in their last nine games. Since April 5, they had lost just once.
But that didn't matter. Cruz Azul didn't play all of its regulars. Nor did it play a dominant match. But
Hopes will surely be high the next times MLS teams travel to Mexico. Houston will visit Pachuca on Sept. 16 (Mexican Independence Day) while D.C. United travels to Toluca on Oct. 20. Houston may seem like a strong candidate to do what Columbus couldn't and pull off a historic win. However, it's difficult to imagine the Dynamo entering with more impressive numbers than the Crew.
But an MLS team someday will walk away with a win ... right? Law of averages and all that. MLS might not waltz South of the Border and toy with their opponents the way Mexican clubs do, but that doesn't mean an MLS team won't sooner or later.
What needs to happen for MLS teams to be successful in Mexico?
Will it happen? Will an MLS team leave Mexico with a win someday? Possibly. If North Korea can reach the World Cup, anything is possible. But will it happen anytime soon? Probably not in '09. Or '10. But MLS is improving slowly. The league is better now than it was in '03, and it will be better in '13 than it is now. Expansion will eventually create a stronger league as teams in markets that really do care about soccer will continue to enter the league.
Until then, however, MLS teams will take their lumps time and again in Mexico.