By Clemente Lisi – NEW YORK, NY (Aug 3, 2016) US Soccer Players – Soccer in August can be a mixed bag. For American fans, MLS games are the only real competitive matches out there worth watching. This weekend’s New York City FC versus Colorado Rapids, the two best teams in the league at the midway point, was definitely worth watching. Europe’s major domestic leagues, meanwhile, are a few weeks away. The upcoming Olympic men’s tournament isn’t much fun with the absence of the US U-23 team. With the Copa Centenario and Euros in the rearview mirror, the appetite for big-time soccer is there in this country. It’s the options that are limited.
The solution from the marketing geniuses that run the modern game is “Champions” soccer. I’m referring to the CONCACAF Champions League and the ongoing International Champions Cup. The two share the soccer schedule starting this week. The CCL matters to MLS fans. The ICC has no American teams. No matter how much ESPN pushes it, the ICC is an artificial tournament. It features big clubs with incomplete rosters in the early stages of preseason. Nothing new in this part of the world this time of year.
Here’s where the ICC is part of the CCL’s ongoing problems. It doesn’t help going head-to-head. That’s the situation on Wednesday with the CCL at Red Bull Arena and the ICC just up the road at MetLife. Do they appeal to two different soccer audiences? Should any of us want to find out?
The start of the Champions League also highlights the need for a revamp. It’s the only solution, not exactly news to MLS fans. The ICC isn’t going anywhere. It makes too much money. My point here is the focus of American fans should be on the CCL. And it would mean a lot for MLS as a whole if one of its teams actually won the trophy. I’m not saying rig it to happen, but make the conditions conducive for it to occur.
Despite MLS improving, its teams can’t break the domination of Mexican clubs. Under the current format, there is no way an MLS team can win this thing. How does the Champions League improve? Here are three solutions:
Scrap the opening round group stage
The mistake from the start is the format. This isn’t the other Champions League across the Atlantic. There, big clubs demand more games and revenue. The UEFA Champions League makes big bucks. It needs to have a format where it can squeeze out the most games as possible. That’s not the case in North and Central America and the Caribbean.
Solution: Streamline the tournament by making it a bracket with home-and-away legs. Put Mexican teams on one side and US/Canadian ones on the other. This would eliminate the chance of an all-Mexico final. It would also give clubs from other countries had a shot at going deep.
Change the schedule
August is no time to start this thing. Liga MX only resumed play a few weeks ago, while MLS is at the halfway point of its season. Add to that the hot temperatures and you realize how insane it is to be holding games now. It gets no better when the knockout stage starts in March. MLS is in preseason and Liga MX isnt. The Mexican clubs don’t need that advantage. This has, by far, been the biggest factor for why MLS teams rarely get past the quarterfinals.
Solution: Start the tournament in September. Play games in the fall, take a long winter break, and resume in May. The final could take place in June. That would still adhere to the FIFA calendar without damaging MLS teams’ chances.
Cut down the number of teams
Liga MX and MLS teams are the cream of the crop in CONCACAF. The two leagues send nine clubs to the 24-team competition. That means there are 15 teams with virtually no chance of winning it. There is no quality to this tournament when so many teams are weak.
Solution: Shrink the tournament to 16 teams. Liga MX and MLS would still send nine teams, a little more than half the total. The rest of the field would face a qualifying tournament that takes place in the summer. That guarantees the best teams in the Champions League.
None of this will change the fact that there is no incentive to win this thing. The carrot at the end of the stick now is the FIFA Club World Cup. That’s not going to cut it. While the exposure of playing in such a tournament would great for an MLS side, it isn’t worth it. There needs to be a pot at the end of the rainbow. The pot needs to be a big monetary prize. That would go a long way for an MLS team spending to win.
Soccer in August can be a mixed bag. For the CONCACAF Champions League, it doesn’t need to be that way for the duration of the tournament. A few tweaks would go a long way. Right now, none of it may be worth your time.
Based in New York City, Clemente Lisi is a regular contributor to US Soccer Players. He covers all topics relating to American soccer, including Major League Soccer. He has covered the last two World Cups for the site. He is also the author of A History of the World Cup: 1930-2014. Clemente began writing for our site in July 2007. Find him on Twitter:http://twitter.com/ClementeLisi.
More from Clemente Lisi: