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The Relentless Journey of a Champion

There are multitudinous differences between Major League Soccer (MLS) and the prominent European leagues. Speed, style, talent, history, fan culture and culture in general, scheduling for the season and club priorities, to only name a few. The latter provides a fascinating insight into one of the core distinctions between the soccer/footballing mentality of the best clubs from these two land masses separated by the massive Atlantic Ocean.

Exhibit A: Bayern Munich.

On Tuesday, February 12th, Bayern Munich lined-up against Hamburger SV in a German Cup quarterfinal match. FC Hollywood has been dominant to say the least this season (again) and a victory could have been secured with a bevy of bench players (though all are borderline world-class). But did Pep Guardiola pursue such a lackadaisical strategy? No. Why? Because he’s a championship coach and he doesn’t accept anything less than a championship effort.

The starting lineup for Bayern Munich looked like one a fan or analyst would and should come to expect for a top Bundesliga or Champions League clash. The result? A 5-nil drubbing by Guardiola’s men.

It was a championship statement by a championship team.

Next Wednesday will see Bayern Munich travel to Emirates Stadium to face Arsenal for a UEFA Champions League clash. With a weekend Bundesliga match to play a few days prior, the Bavarians should again enter the opening kickoff with a familiar, confident rhythm from all players and coaches.

Time will tell if remaining on 4th and 5th gear will pay off for Guardiola & Co.

Exhibit B: The Columbus Crew (as just one MLS example).

Conversely, the Columbus Crew has, on numerous occasions, chosen to rest a few of its top players for MLS games only. This has, sadly, resulted in unexpected losses in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup by a less talented opponent from an inferior American league or by an MLS team they should have defeated.

2012: The Crew 1-2 Dayton Dutch Lions in Columbus Crew Stadium.

For the Crew, it seems like the mindset is that the Open Cup is nice, but it’s not as prestigious as the MLS Cup. And perhaps this is a big problem. Why? Because championship teams want to win championships. All of them. Period. No excuses. If the coach wants to get more players quality time on the pitch, then a more suitable strategy may be to mix them in as substitutes and even starters (1 or 2 in a game here and there) throughout the MLS season. In other words, the team dynamic should not be an A-Team and a B-Team, but rather one team that can rotate players from the bench/reserves without much disruption in the style of play for the individual and team as a whole. This could help alleviate some of the exhaustion during extremely hot summer conditions in Texas or a busy week or two straight of competition without missing much of a beat in quality or achieving positive results.

This post is not an effort to necessarily hail Bayern Munich and Europe and criticize the Columbus Crew and MLS, but to shine a bright light on the reality of how a championship team is built, how it evolves and then how it capitalizes on every opportunity for glory. The Crew won MLS Cup in 2008, but that comprehensive drive for achieving all titles each season seems to be lacking and it seems to be contagious among its fellow MLS teams.

For the media’s part, not all competitions are viewed through the same lens of importance as the MLS Cup. There are some legitimate reasons for that. However, soccer coverage in the United States is still limited. Yes, that’s a disappointing fact, but it’s getting better. Regardless, the MLS season is not just about the MLS Cup. While it is the best title and the crown jewel of the league, it’s not the only title (Supporters’ Shield, U.S. Open Cup & CONCACAF Champions League).

There is an intense sense of urgency in Munich right now (as there was last year as well) where any single loss or instances of complacency in motivation or effort is felt, scrutinized and immediately corrected from within.

The best tend to do that.