By Jason Davis – WASHINGTON, DC (Feb 24, 2016) US Soccer Players – Despite what Major League Soccer wants to tell you, the CONCACAF Champions League does not matter. An MLS winner of the competition will not, no matter what you hear, give the league a massive boost of respectability around the globe.
Getting an MLS team into the FIFA Club World Cup is not something that will lift MLS to new heights of prestige. That’s largely because no one really cares about the Club World Cup, even when Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, or another European powerhouse is on hand to steamroll the competition. An MLS team taking on the champions of Europe doesn’t suddenly make MLS an important League. If that was true, then Liga MX would be held in much higher esteem around the world than it is right now.
Mexico’s reputation is mostly fine, even without a bump from the Club World Cup. It doesn’t seem like it bothers the fans either way, because they find value in their league without need for outside validation. Liga MX is not counted among the world’s best leagues, because the world’s best leagues are all based in Europe. Europe hardly deigns to look in the direction of the Western Hemisphere short of scooping up the best talent the Americas has to offer.
The race to get noticed or prove something by MLS via international club competition is a fool’s errand. The league’s emphasis on the Champions League (more on this moniker in a moment) put them in a poor position when the results don’t go their way. The more MLS builds up the Champions League as a focus, the worse they look each time one of their teams falls short of the ultimate goal.
The situation is made worse because MLS promotes the importance of the Champions League even as it values its restrictive business principles and a calendar that doesn’t line up well with the tournament. It’s like going after a boxing title while choosing to keep one hand behind your back. Even with two hands up it would be a challenge, but by holding back MLS makes it nearly impossible.
Admittedly, saying the Champions League doesn’t matter because MLS can’t compete seems like a good way to give the league an excuse for failure. The tournament is worthless because MLS chooses to hold itself back, but if an MLS team managed to break through with a championship, too many would ascribe a significant amount of meaning. It’s funny how MLS has created a situation where built-in excuses mean they almost get to have it both ways.
The tournament’s importance is questionable at best, no matter how much MLS owners express their frustration at an inability to compete. Even if stronger MLS teams make it tougher, it’s still not a priority for Liga MX clubs. Midweek games are a tough sell across the region, especially when Liga MX clubs would rather be playing midweek in the Copa Libertadores.
Forced into the Champions League because of CONCACAF’s insistence, the best clubs in Mexico know better. So do their MLS counterparts if we’re being honest. The tournament lacks meaningful history and the clubs are mostly unknown outside of their own countries. There’s no bigger story in watching them face off against one another. Small crowds and a lack of familiarity makes for less-than-stellar atmospheres. Without a buzz in the air, the CONCACAF Champions League will always be just a poor facsimile of the European version.
CONCACAF intended for that comparison, even if it’s incredibly naïve. The name just reminds fans that the “real” champions league happens somewhere else. That real Champions League has always been more than the two biggest leagues mismatching their clubs.
A tournament dominated by one country is boring and meaningless. A competition dominated by two countries is a mere shade less boring and less meaningless. Barring a dramatic rise of the Costa Rican and Honduran leagues (unlikely, but not impossible), the immediate future of the “CCL” is nothing more than a glorified version of the old SuperLiga.
How does it get it better? In the short term, it won’t. A schedule switch would help MLS and maybe deliver a more level playing field between the two leagues. That would insert an “MLS club as champion” wrinkle, but will that drive additional interest?
The UEFA Champions League is fascinating, popular, and amazing for a lot of reasons. One of those is because across the continent, there are teams that can win the whole thing. That may never be true of the CONCACAF Champions League. Which might mean the CONCACAF Champions League might never really matter.
More From Jason Davis: