By Jason Davis – WASHINGTON, DC (May 12, 2017) US Soccer Players – According to reports out of Mexico, the owners of Liga MX are set to ratify plans for a new cup competition at meetings later this month ahead of the Clausura Liguilla final. Atlas president Gustavo Guzman tipped off reporters about development on Tuesday, saying it was “very good news” that a new outlet for Mexican soccer was coming into existence just as the country’s clubs pulled out of the Copa Libertadores. With the Mexican league anxious to expand its reach abroad, putting clubs into competition against teams in new markets is of paramount importance.
Guzman’s excitement belies the fact that what is being proposed, what the Liga MX owners are set to approve, isn’t a new idea. It was just seven years ago that the final installment of a concept exactly like the one currently on the table played out in front of modest crowds in places like Foxborough, Houston, and Carson.
Remember the “SuperLiga”? While it occasionally provided for some exciting soccer, it failed to capture the imagination of fans across the country during its 2007-2010 run. It went quietly, mourned for by no one but Revolution fans who can count the 2008 Superliga title as one of two trophies in the club’s history.
Why bring back the SuperLiga concept? There was no groundswell of demand for a new tournament pitting MLS teams against Mexican clubs, especially in light of the failure of American and Canadian teams against their contemporaries to the south in the CONCACAF Champions League. Because of those failures, MLS looks like a glutton for punishment. Whatever progress the league has made since the last edition of the SuperLiga in 2010 has been either matched or surpassed by Liga MX. Major League Soccer is undoubtedly a better soccer competition with more talented players and a more refined style of play, but that doesn’t mean it has closed the gap with Mexico.
That said, MLS is desperate to find a way to challenge itself against Mexico and achieve some manner of success, regardless of the (self-imposed) handicaps. With an MLS announcement regarding the “SuperLiga Redux” idea expected soon, the league will no doubt point to the opportunity for its teams to prove themselves on an international stage. There are excuses built in for the Champions League failures, scheduling chief among them, that presumably won’t be a problem in a new two-league competition. Maybe the new cup will represent a more level playing field.
Outside of money, that is. MLS is still following a slow-growth model in regards to player spending, meaning that the league will continue to trail Liga MX team-for-team in terms of talent for the foreseeable future.
Speaking of money, that is most certainly the Mexican league’s interest in the new (old) competition. Liga MX is the most-watched soccer league on US television, so playing games in the US against American opponents will help its clubs generate new revenue streams from fans already familiar with the league.
A Liga MX knock-on effect for the MLS club who participate is good news. Big Mexican clubs playing somewhat meaningful games against American teams might help attract new fans from among the Mexican soccer faithful. MLS has largely struggled to convert existing fans of Latin American soccer into MLS fans over the last few years. The new SuperLiga could be a way to help that process.
If there’s demand. The 2010 SuperLiga managed just shy of 10,000 fans on average, up slightly from the paltry 7,000 it averaged in 2009. Those numbers represented a significant drop from the first two editions, when games drew 15,000 and 13,000 on average. It seems that enthusiasm for the battle of USA versus Mexico waned considerably rather than growing as one might expect.
American soccer fans largely stay away from midweek matches, something that hasn’t changed since the original SuperLiga ended. Drumming up interest in a new tournament, one that won’t have much cache from the outset, won’t be easy. Barring the involvement of Mexico’s biggest clubs (Chivas and Club America, to name two) the games won’t feel all that more important than the odd in-season friendly.
Perhaps a reboot of the SuperLiga was inevitable, no matter how the first version ended. The geography makes it too easy. The growth of MLS has only pushed it closer to Mexico’s sphere of financial clout, making it an obvious partner for the region’s dominant club competition. The cross-pollination of cultures, especially with so many Mexican soccer fans living in the United States, has each coveting elements of the other.
The phrase “cash grab” gets thrown around lot in the modern sport of soccer. That ususally tries to invalidate any other bit of value an event might present. This new tournament doesn’t look like much more than a cash grab. The question is whether this cash grab is interesting enough, popular enough, and (obviously) lucrative enough to live longer and become more meaningful than the last time the Mexican league and Major League Soccer got together for an exclusive, two-league tournament.
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