By J Hutcherson – WASHINGTON, DC (Aug 22, 2012) US Soccer Players – There’s an idea in play across North and Central America that a tournament can be invested with meaning simply because it exists. That’s certainly the carryover from the breadth of the CONCACAF Champions League, a tournament that requires multiple teams and multiple steps to figure out which Liga MX club will represent the Confederation at FIFA’s Club World Cup.
For some of you, that might read as too harsh and too soon for a tournament where a Major League Soccer club has made the final and MLS teams have managed to take the lead in drawing fans to games. Perhaps, but this is still a competition short of meaning, and it’s up to the clubs and fans to decide if it’s worth their time and energy.
As organizers, CONCACAF acted as if they were responding to a pressing need. The older version of this tournament, a knockout cup of limited appeal, needed tweaking if not outright revamping. Instead, it was shelved in favor of the European model. What that decision has meant in practice is a series of exceptions. It’s the exception that Mexico’s powerhouses will field first choice teams, especially on the road. It’s an exception that fans will show up in numbers. It’s an exception that any of the non-Mexican clubs will pick up points in Mexico. Meanwhile, there’s a basic question of engagement.
Without the money or the prestige of Europe’s Champions League, the comparison between tournaments ends at organization. Liga MX clubs can play in South America’s far more lucrative and higher profile Copa Libertadores, but CONCACAF’s preference for the best teams playing in its own tournament means Mexico no longer sends its strongest clubs.
The message, as you can imagine, is mixed. Winning the domestic titles in Mexico are of upmost importance, but that means navigating the extended CONCACAF Champions League schedule. Even the winner of the Champions League faces what has been a quick turnaround at the Club World Cup. It’s an honor to attend, but CONCACAF’s teams normally fall quickly and anonymously in a tournament that’s still built around the Libertadores winner and the UEFA Champions League winner.
Scheduling and the level of the competition in the CONCACAF Champions League does very little to help the eventual winner achieve at the Club World Cup. The lack of any significant financial increases courtesy of the CONCACAF Champions League means there won’t be an influx of additional money and, with it, the opportunity for the best club in CONCACAF to spend on a stronger squad. What happens in practice is CONCACAF sends a club built to win at Liga MX level, and that normally doesn’t work at the Club World Cup.
In this mix of apathy, questionable planning, and lack of money is the idea – more an ideal – that time will fix things. The CONCACAF Champions League is a new competition, fans will catch on as their clubs strive for regional dominance, and eventually these games will take their rightful place as highlights on club schedules. The CCL will matter simply because it exists.
There’s been enough evidence to stress that point, if not outright prove it. We’ve seen huge crowds for Champions League games, a demonstration that general interest can exist. Though that might not balance out the low attendance, reserve teams, and the feeling that we all know who will end up contending months from now in the knockout stage, it’s there.
How that positive becomes the story is a stretch. It has to stretch to cover the competition’s best clubs attempting to manage it in a way that doesn’t highlight the Champions League’s importance. That’s a polite way of saying that selling a lot of tickets for what was a second division team in Canada or an MLS team that always draws doesn’t stress the importance of the CCL. What does is when the favorites are doing the same.
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