CONCACAF Champions League: A Good Idea?

CONCACAF Champions LeagueYesterday, CONCACAF officially announced its new Champions League tournament, to replace the not particularly cared for Champions Cup. Does this herald a brave new era of regional competition in North and Central America?

First, the format. 24 teams will take part (1/3 of them will be from MLS and Mexico), with preliminaries in August and September, to be followed by a group stage in the autumn. There will then be a long break before the final knockout stage which will run from February to April.

MLS’ representatives will most likely be Houston, DC, New England and Chivas USA, though it’s not exactly clear yet how the American participants will be decided — in typical CONCACAF/MLS fashion, of course.

Reaction has ranged from the ecstatic to the sceptical.

WVHooligan is concerned that along with the Superliga between MLS and Mexican clubs, founded last year, this is potentially tournament overkill.

Sure, SuperLiga has nothing at all to do with this tournament and it is purely a money thing between the MLS and the Mexican league. But it is really all that necessary for what will probably be the same MLS clubs to have to play those games in the summer in the SuperLiga and then to have to play again during the prime-time of the season in September and October in the Champions League?

I think it is a bit much. MLS clubs are already stretched too thin as it is when it comes to other club competitions. Looks what the extra games did to the LA Galaxy this past season. Not to mention, MLS clubs already have to deal with the long MLS season, the US Open Cup and random friendlies that these clubs attract in the summer months while European clubs are in training for the new season.

It’s true MLS is going to have to, at best, move Superliga, which was a success last year. There are already rumours, as Blue Blooded Journo notes, that the Revolution might have to reject their invitation because of this schedule congestion.

Given their past history and their “MLS Cup is everything” mentality, could the Revs balk at the chance to play in the region’s champions league. Sadly, such a prospect isn’t out of the realm of possibility. Remember, New England took a few years off from the US Open Cup at the turn of the century.

Speaking of the US Open Cup, America’s oldest knockout tournament, Jim Strother makes the brilliant suggestion that awarding a qualification spot to the winners of the tournament could foment interest in it. But would MLS try to block the possibility of a USL team taking one of the spots?

Gramsci’s Kingdom, on the other hand, is giddy with excitement at the prospect of following his beloved Toronto FC around the region. He also looks at how the Canadian representative might be determined.

The important thing here is that Canada’s been given one of the 24 sports. This is somewhat problematic because alone among CONCACAF nations, we have no real national championships. Our three professional teams all play in American leagues,and as fans of Swansea and Cardiff know, international football has tended to look askance at teams playing in one country’s league and representing another country internationally.

But what does that leave? The Canadian Soccer League is semi-pro at best, and it clubs are almost entirely from Ontario – and, hilariously, has two divisions: a “national” division of regionally-based teams (one of which – the Trois-Rivieres Attak – is the Montreal Impact’s reserve squad) and an “international” division of ethnic Toronto teams – Toronto Croatia, Serbian White Eagles, Italian Shooters, Canadian Lions (I believe a Caribbean team) and Portuguese Supra. If any of these teams were to represent Canada, they would get creamed.

The Canadian Soccer Association, displaying its usual lightning-quick reflexes, put up the CONCACAF announcement on its website yesterday but failed to make any announcement about how Canada’s representative would be chosen. A hopeful but poorly-sourced article in the Vancouver Sun suggests that a triangular championship featuring home-and-homes between the Whitecaps, Impact and FC is in the works.

God bless. At a minimum, that means road trips to Montreal and Vancouver this year, plus two more dates on my season ticket. And…miracle of miracles…the possibility of away games in Mexcio, Costa Rica and the Caribbean.

My Soccer Blog makes an important observation about the scheduling — with the tournament starting just before the end of the MLS season — noting that it’s not favourable for MLS clubs.

With a large number of the group games coming during the final few weeks of the season, clubs may need to make difficult decisions on players, especially when it comes to travel.

If clubs do make it into the knockout round, they will face the same issue teams face with the current CONCACAF Champions Cup, in that MLS will be in pre-season training four up to three of their very important games. Then again, if MLS ever switched over to international scheduling (playing Aug-May), this would solve these issues, but that’s not happening anytime soon.

Sideline Views seconds the concerns about scheduling, noting the long pause during the MLS offseason could dramatically change teams in the middle of the tournament.

And as far as the calendar itself goes, I can’t understand why you would have the group stage end the final week of October and force teams to wait nearly four months to play the quarterfinals. MLS teams change a lot over the course of an offseason. You could have an entirely different team compete in Match Day 6 and the quarterfinals first leg, provided an MLS team gets that far.

Overall, then, a mixed picture. It’s good to see some genuine fan enthusiasm, but as ever, the devil is in the details. And I haven’t even mentioned Jack Warner. What do you think of the new tournament’s prospects?

11 thoughts on “CONCACAF Champions League: A Good Idea?

  1. Pingback: Daily Dose 1.29.08 - Spain La Liga - The Offside - Soccer News and Opinion from leagues around the world

  2. Paul Scanling

    Who plays in the qualifications? What countries? What’s the format for the group stages? How does MLS determine it’s participants? Are players cup tied? If a player moves from one team in the tournament to another in the “offseason”, can they play? Fixture congestion? How can it be a real tournament with so much time off between group stage and knockout stage? Why put it in the most important part of the MLS season? Do they really want teams to have to play in Costa Rica three days before an important home match? With limitations on the size of MLS rosters, will depth be a factor? (Um, yes…) Broadcast rights? If Canadian USL teams can qualify, why can’t American USL teams? (US Open Cup Champs automatic spot?)

    And people wonder why the rest of the world thinks MLS is a Mickey Mouse League…

    Play Up Pompey!!!!

  3. Hedi

    Is there any chance from MLS to change their schedule and adapt with Champions League schedule? Or maybe, members of CONCACAF should make a rythm in each domestic schedule. That’s exactly what UEFA does in Europe. Their calendar is one rythm.

    (sorry for my poor english)

  4. Tom Dunmore Post author

    Blimey Paul, Jack Warner might have you knocked off for poking so many holes in his grand plan. You raise a lot of good points, though I am inclined to cut Concacaf and MLS a bit of slack — this region is at a much earlier stage of footballing development as a whole than Europe. It’s not like Europe’s always had a well-organised continental tournament. These things take time, but one does wish a few more details had been ironed out when they announced it, certainly.

    Incidentally, Univision will be broadcasting all games in Spanish in the U.S., no word on an English-language broadcaster.

    Hedi, there is always talk about MLS moving its schedule to a split season, with a winter break (it would be impossible to have matches in places like Toronto or Chicago from December to February). But it seems unlikely as it’s feared attendance would crash through the floor. Also, don’t forget not all of Europe is on the same schedule, as the timing of the Champions League isn’t ideal for countries like Russia.

  5. Paul Scanling

    I’m in the Witness Protection Program. I’m writing from somewhere in Zingali.

    Granted we are decades behind Europe and South America in terms of continental competitions, but it doesn’t look to me like we learned anything from everyone else’s format, mistakes, and adjustments. I know it’s completely unrealistic to expect every country to operate on the same calendar. We can’t play in northern cities in the winter without dome stadiums, which doesn’t go over well with plastic grass. However, MLS has to realize that to participate in these competitions with a chance of winning, the league must make some changes to give their teams a chance. International breaks for those teams must be built into the schedule. Europe has countries that operate on a similar calendar to MLS and their schedule is adjusted to accommodate the Champions League.

    I’ll crawl back into my hole now. Wait, who’s that knocking on my door?

  6. Timoteo

    NO TO THIS TOURNAMENT. INSTEAD TEAMS SHOULD BE PLAYING IN THE COPA LIBERTADORES AND THE COPA SUDAMERICANA AGAINST THE BEST TEAMS IN THE AMERICAS. AND THE CHAMPION OF THE US CUP SHOULD GET A BERTH AT ONE OF THOSE TOURNAMENTS.

  7. Evan

    “WVHooligan is concerned that along with the Superliga between MLS and Mexican clubs, founded last year, this is potentially tournament overkill.”

    Besides tournament overkill for MLS clubs, how do you think the Mexican clubs feel? They have the InterLiga competition as well, to determine the Mexican qualifiers for the Copa Libertadores.

  8. ursus arctos

    Timoteo opens the door for me to repeat my favorite suggestion in this context:

    Abolish CONCACAF; have one federation for the Americas; put Jack Warner and Julio Grondona in a steel cage match to determine the new president and fix it so that neither emerges in any condition to serve; appoint Peter Wilt. Everybody wins.

    But that ain’t going to happen. Sure this is flawed, but I would see it as a step forward, and preferable to the made-for-Televisa ersatz competition that is the Superliga.

  9. Tom Dunmore Post author

    ursus, I knew you’d shoehorn that idea in eventually. Yes, it’s a good one, and yes, it has zero chance of happening unfortunately. On the other hand, we will probably see more and more North American teams “guesting” in South American tournaments, and perhaps one day, even the reverse. That could be the start of something bigger.

    Evan, would it be a crazy idea to merge InterLiga with Superliga to determine some of the qualifiers?

  10. Michael

    Like many MLS fans, I favor moving to a single table and eliminating the two divisions along with the MLS Cup playoffs. The main focus for clubs should be their position in the regular season table, not on making it to the playoffs. Some sort of international tournament like the proposed Champions League would facilitate a switch to a single table format by giving a reward for the best regular season performances and compensation for eliminating the within-MLS playoffs.

    The problem with the proposed CONCACAF Champions League is that your typical MSL fan won’t find match-ups against teams from other CONCACAF countries (other than Mexico perhaps) very compelling or glamorous. Copa Libertadores, on the other hand, would be great, but getting CONMEBOL to let MLS have spots in the tournament would seem like quite a stretch.