By Luis Bueno – RIVERSIDE, CA (Mar 20, 2019) US Soccer Players - MLS received potential good news last week when FIFA opted to expand the Club World Cup. Under the current format, only seven teams participate with the Concacaf Champions League winner representing this region. That means Liga MX clubs in the Club World Cup.
That could change. Concacaf will receive three of the 24 spots in the revamped version of the Club World Cup. Triple the spots means a better chance of qualifying for the tournament without having to win the Champions League, a feat that has greatly eluded MLS clubs.
Good news for MLS, but the announcement hasn't received worldwide support. Problems, questions, and doubts surrounding the Club World Cup. So many questions abound that it seems highly unlikely that the event will even take place or become the quadrennial spectacle FIFA hopes it will be.
FIFA’s changes to the Club World Cup are sweeping. The tournament will feature more than three times the amount of teams, played in the summer instead of winter. It's now set for 2021, replacing the FIFA Confederations Cup. That National Team tournament met its doom in last week's FIFA Council meeting in Miami and is no longer on the international schedule. Neither are the annual Club World Cups, with 2018 the last before the revamp.
The move to summer means that more teams would play. It also means that those same teams may not want to extend their seasons. Some of the top European clubs have reportedly balked at the idea of having to play in a competition like that during the summer. The European Club Association, which represents more than 200 European clubs, said its member clubs will not be part of the tournament, according to published reports.
FIFA of course wants and needs for the top European clubs to participate for the revamped Club World Cup to succeed. Without their participation, the tournament might not even get the chance to get off the ground.
Of course, if the tournament does not come to fruition, it would be akin to the previous time MLS had an entry into a global club competition only to see it fall apart. The LA Galaxy had a place in the 2001 FIFA Club World Championship. That was a 12-team event that would have taken place during the summer of that year in Spain. The tournament collapsed though due to a variety of factors, including financial problems with FIFA’s then-marketing firm and a congested fixture list that summer.
The Galaxy didn't ge the opportunity to play against Real Madrid in Santiago Bernabeu. MLS seeing one of its clubs win the old Concacaf Champions Cup did not lead to much beyond that accomplishment.
It would be a bit different now, though. MLS has no such guarantees of competing in the event two years from now. Concacaf has three spots. How to assign them is now the question.
That alone seems like a complicated issue to resolve. The structure of the Club World Cup over the last decade-plus works for Concacaf. They have a calendar year champion that advances to the global tournament. As these things go, it works rather smoothly. Now, there might be no payoff for the annual winner.
Selecting its three representatives means a difficult task for CONCACAF but it would be best for the betterment of the confederation to not send three representatives from the same league. Spreading the wealth around and offering its member organizations the chance to participate in this type of event is something the confederation should want.
Unfortunately for leagues other than Liga MX, that goes against the spirit of competition and letting Champions League results speak for themselves. Liga MX clubs are the dominant force in Concacaf. Three of the four semifinalists in the current edition of the Champions League are from Mexico. Sporting KC the lone club outside of Liga MX to remain in the party. They knocked out Mexican side Toluca along its path to the semifinals.
Despite all of the problems the tournament faces in even getting off the ground, there is an upside. If MLS teams take part in the tournament, it would be the biggest stage. The chance to play during the summer against international competition in a meaningful tournament beamed across the globe represents a major opportunity.
What it might mean for the 2019 winner remains a question. That would take nothing away from Sporting KC. Considering how Liga MX clubs do in the Club World Cup, there's a way of looking at the Concacaf Champions League as an end in itself. That's certainly how the biggest clubs in Europe and South America treat their confederation tournaments.
For MLS, what matters right now is what they know and what they can control. That's the semifinals on the schedule for Sporting Kansas City.
Luis Bueno is a veteran soccer writer. Follow him on twitter @BuenoSoccer.
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