MLS commissioner Don Garber believes that teams from his league are getting closer to winning the CONCACAF Champions League despite not reaching the regional final for the seventh time in nine years.
Earlier this month, FC Dallas lost its semifinal series against Mexico's Pachuca, while the Vancouver Whitecaps were eliminated by Liga MX champ Tigres in the other semifinal.
The 2016-17 winner will be crowned next week; Tigres and Pachuca tied 1-1 on Tuesday in the first match of this year's two-leg, total goals finale.
But even though a Mexican team has won the competition every year since the expanded league format began in 2008, Garber sees reason for optimism for MLS squads.
"I looked at this year's Champions League, and I walked away disappointed that Dallas, in particular, didn't go through," Garber told ESPNFC. "But I was empowered by how well they played. We're getting closer."
FC Dallas, which won the 2016 MLS Supporters Shield as the league's best regular-season team, beat the Tuzos 2-1 in Texas in the series opener. But they were knocked out in the decisive tilt south of the border when Hirving Lozano's stoppage time goal put Pachuca up 4-3 on aggregate. FCD missed several golden scoring chances over the two games.
At the CONCACAF congress in Aruba a few days later, Garber said he discussed the result with officials from the Mexican football federation.
"They call came away impressed with how Dallas stood up and played toe-to-toe against Pachuca. So we're getting there," Garber said.
The Montreal Impact were the last MLS team to reach the final, losing to Club America in 2015. Real Salt Lake was the runner up in 2011. An MLS club has not won the CONCACAF crown since the LA Galaxy hoisted the Champions Cup -- the predecessor to the current event -- way back in 2001.
"You have to get there piece by piece, and from failure comes success," Garber said. "We will learn from not getting through to the final again this year. We'll figure out how we might go about managing that so we have more success next year."
Unlike their Liga MX counterparts, MLS teams are bound by a modest salary cap, although they are permitted to pay up to three designated players whatever wages they want.
The system has boosted MLS's growth, but it also limits the amount of depth domestic teams can have. For example, Toronto FC's payroll is about $25 million in 2017, but the bulk of that money goes to DPs Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley and Sebastian Giovinco. By comparison, a Liga MX team has the ability to spread that money across an entire roster, allowing them to be more competitive.
Garber said the league is strengthening the middle of its squads through the influx of what the league calls targeted allocation money, which has added more than $1 million to each team's salary budget in 2017. Other changes that loosen the purse strings could be in the works in the future, too.
"I think you'll continue to see more evolution to our player strategy in the years to come so ultimately we can be more competitive with Mexico," Garber said.
"Ultimately, I believe we will win the Champions League. The question isn't an if, it's a when. If you asked the head of Liga MX, I think he's say the same thing."