By J Hutcherson (Jan 24, 2017) US Soccer Players – CONCACAF did it again with their revisions to the Champions League. Somehow, somewhere, they decided that the real issue with the Champions League was… uhm…. Well, it certainly wasn’t the quality of the clubs involved or the weird schedule.
The latest version of the Champions League doesn’t solve either of those problems. Instead, it’s splitting the tournament to favor smaller clubs from smaller leagues and inconveniencing the bigger clubs. Sort of the opposite for the UEFA approach. Then again, the powerbrokers within CONCACAF are the nations representing those smaller clubs and leagues.
What CONCACAF did was give those smaller leagues and clubs their own mini-tournament. CONCACAF might be awarding a trophy to the team that gets out of that 16-club competition, but it’s just qualifying. It’s also just CONCACAF, so adjust expectations accordingly.
“The expansion of the CONCACAF club competitions platform to 31 clubs is an important step forward in the Confederation’s efforts to include more Member Association representation and increase participation at the highest levels of our competitions,” CONCACAF president Victor Montagliani said. “The continued growth of club competition in CONCACAF is representative of the strengthening of the sport throughout the region, and along with the new format for the Champions League, provides the base for a formidable club championship structure that will entertain and engage fans region-wide for years to come.”
Nope, not even close. Instead, it’s a competition serving the unmet ambitions of CONCACAF without putting in the work. They went with another re-imagining rather than a restructuring of the club game in the region.
What CONCACAF needs is a Caribbean league, following the cricket model in the region. That’s step one, addressing the competitive issues. It’s CONCACAF’s chance to raise the floor on quality rather than flattering its members.
Then it’s looking at the big leagues in the North American zone and scheduling for them. That means not playing CONCACAF games that count when MLS or Liga MX aren’t playing league games that count. Design the tournament so the biggest teams see each other in meaningful encounters. That requires a hefty incentive to win.
Reorganizing the field is an eventual necessity. The current version is too long and too flattering to a future version of CONCACAF. Trying for the UEFA model without the same quality and parity from league-to-league was never likely to work. Does that really change by dropping the group stage?
“Probably not” is the easy answer, but we knew that already. It’s worth wondering if there was serious discussion about setting aside the Champions League concept and revisiting the old Champions’ Cup. The faults with that tournament was that few of the teams involved cared. It was an obligation, something that added games to a schedule. That might seem harsh, but the competition doesn’t have a glorious history. Instead, it’s fitting in games around other obligations. It also never gave a satisfying answer to a simple question. Which team is the best in the region?
Getting from there requires enticing the clubs to care. The quick answer is money, but FIFA has money and the Club World Cup is still in the obligation category. Though it runs counter to how soccer’s governing bodies tend to see their role, that means favoring the biggest and best clubs. Figure out what they want to see and give it to them as soon as possible. That should be the basis for a Champions League worth playing in, and eventually worth watching.
J Hutcherson started covering soccer in 1999 and has worked as the general manager of the US National Soccer Team Players Association since 2002. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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