Since the inception of the CONCACAF Champions League in 2008, no MLS team that has advanced to the group stage has even won a MLS Cup playoff round that same year. The thinking has tended to be that MLS teams lacked the needed depth for this kind of multi-cup competition.
This year, the Seattle Sounders and Los Angeles Galaxy are putting that theory to test. Rather than shift into cruise control once their season started getting crowded with extra games, both teams have shifted into new gears. Their performances since CCL play started toward the end of August have rocketed them to the top of the MLS regular-season standings and have them clearly positioned as the two top teams in the league.
The Sounders have gone 6-1-0 with a +10 goal-difference in MLS matches following CCL matches, while the Galaxy have gone 4-0-0 with a +7 goal-difference. That's far too small of a sample size to suggest CCL matches had a positive effect on both teams, but the competition has clearly done nothing to diminish their ability to remain competitive in the MLS regular season.
The've both managed to do this without having to ignore competitive concerns in other competitions. The Sounders managed to win their third straight Open Cup title and have already qualified for the CCL quarterfinals. The Galaxy have a chance to advance if they can beat Montagua next week. Both have also registered victories over Mexican teams.
Increased roster depth has to be at least part of the explanation. MLS expanded rosters to 30 players this year, and the Sounders and Galaxy have both taken advantage. The Galaxy have given 23 different players at least five starts in all competitions this year, while the Sounders have given 22 players at least that many starts. The Sounders have received at least two goals from 11 different players, while the Galaxy have gotten at least two goals from 10.
The other three MLS teams in CCL have not faired as well. The Colorado Rapids have gone 1-2-2 and FC Dallas are 2-4-0 in MLS matches following CCL fixtures. Toronto FC are 1-2-4, which is actually a slight improvement over the rest of their games.
Four of these five teams will almost certainly make the MLS Cup playoffs. Only time will tell if any are able to break the so-called CCL curse, but competing on multiple fronts hardly seems impossible anymore.