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Collective Bargaining Agreement is holding MLS teams back from CCL success

The players might be their own worst enemy when it comes to winning the CONCACAF Champions League.

MLS: CONCACAF Champions League-Tigres UANL at Real Salt Lake Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

It's an all-too-familiar sight: an all Liga MX CONCACAF Champions League Final. Don't misunderstand - personally I love it. The Mexican teams deserve to be where they are - and that's precisely the problem for Major League Soccer.

Proponents of MLS often point to the CONCACAF Champions League schedule being inherently unfair. When the knockout stage begins, Liga MX has been playing for seven weeks while MLS is still in their preseason. And yes, that definitely puts MLS clubs at a disadvantage, but there really is no better time to hold the round. Any later and you run out of time if you're interested in having the tournament over only one year. Any earlier, and you're just screwing MLS even harder because Liga MX starts their Clausura during the third week of January. They'll still be in season while most MLS players are still on vacation - and this may be the issue.

Per Article 17, Section 2(b) of the Collective Bargaining Agreement that the MLS Players Union ratified with the league, preseason camps can't start more than six weeks prior to the start of the season. There is language allowing for exceptions, however this has not been invoked to allow camps to be held early for teams in the CCL. So legally, the players can't even go into camp until Liga MX is already underway.

Liga MX has no such provisions. The players have a short break between the Apertura Liguilla final (held on December 13 in 2015) and the start of the Clausura (on January 15 in 2016) and a slightly longer break between the Clausura Liguilla final (held on May 31 in 2015) and the start of the Apertura (on July 24 in 2015). Between those are training camps that are held, so players in that league have precious little time off.

Certainly MLS clubs have made runs in the CCL, with the Montreal Impact's run last year fresh in most everyone's mind. MLS did what it could to try and push Montreal over the top, adjusting their schedule to allow them bye weeks to prepare and allowing them to travel early to Mexico City to get used to the altitude. They were however still only able to tie Club América at the Estadio Azteca before being thrashed in the Stade Olympique.

Would more training have helped? Perhaps friendlies in inhospitable places such as La Paz (almost twice the altitude of Mexico City) would help an MLS team looking to gain the competitive advantage needed to finally push past one of their Mexican counterparts. But the MLS Players must recognize this as the only path forward that will garner that level of success.

Another difference to consider is the considerable wage gap between Liga MX clubs and MLS teams, however this cannot be seen as the sole factor keeping MLS clubs from regularly competing in this competition. Spending gaps happen in every league - Club América and Chivas routinely outspend clubs like Toluca, Pachuca, and Santos, however Toluca made it to the Liga MX 2015 Apertura semifinals, Pachuca is currently in third place in the 2016 Clausura, and Santos won the 2015 Clausura and lost in this year's CCL semifinal to Club América. In their run in last year's CCL, Montreal also dispatched Pachuca in the quarterfinals - and they were spending less than $4 million in base salary at the beginning of 2015.

If MLS is ever going to seriously compete with Liga MX teams in the CCL, at some point the players are going to have to take the competition as seriously as the league does and invoke the exception allowing them to train earlier. Only then will they have the required fitness to compete - and to defeat - the giants of Liga MX.