The soccer news starts with the Concacaf version of the Champions League. It’s easy enough to pick the two finalists with Tigres up 3-0 on Santos Laguna and Monterrey leading Sporting Kansas City 5-0. A Liga MX club is likely to lift the trophy yet again, a story that repeats annually in Concacaf. The big picture question for the region is whether or not this is a problem.
Liga MX’s position at the top of the Champions League doesn’t go unchallenged. Sporting KC might be up against it in Thursday’s second-leg, but they already knocked out a Liga MX club. Toronto FC made a strong appearance in last year’s final. The top Liga MX clubs play with a stark financial advantage, something that MLS may or may not decide to meet with yet another reevaluation of their rules. The Mexican clubs don’t have single-entity but they do have a re-entry draft system between their seasons that’s almost as convoluted and player unfriendly. Should both leagues decide to fully compete economically, it would require MLS to make greater alterations in how it currently conducts its business.
What that would mean for Concacaf as a region is even more separation between the North American zone and the rest. It wasn’t that long ago that Costa Rican clubs were challenging for the regional title. That may be the biggest change in the Champions League era with clubs like Saprissa, Herediano and Alajuelense struggling to get past the first stage of the knockout round. With the move to the knockout only version of the Champions League last season, Saprissa and Herediano both lost to Liga MX clubs in the round of 16. This season, it was Atlanta coming back to knockout Herediano with a 4-0 second-leg win and Tigres doing the same against Saprissa with a 5-1 second-leg win in the round of 16.
For all the talk of MLS competing with Liga MX, part of the point of Concacaf’s new era is raising the standard for everybody else. The Champions League isn’t supposed to be a SuperLiga by default. Had Toronto done as expected and knocked out Independiente, this would’ve been an all Liga MX and MLS quarterfinal. Last season, it was another Panamanian club Tauro knocking out an MLS team as the lone non-North American representative in the quarterfinals. They lost to Club America 7-1, the kind of capitulation that might happen in the old group stage but shouldn’t in the tournament’s final eight.
That also creates a dilemma for Concacaf. Treating Canada as a separate entry could in theory mean an opportunity for a non-MLS club. In practice, it’s the de facto 5th MLS spot in the round of 16. Concacaf’s convoluted response to having multiple leagues on different schedules alongside revamping their revamps of the tournament means Toronto FC never entered as 2017 MLS Cup champions. The 2018 representative as MLS Cup winners was Seattle. 2019 straightened out the timeline, but it’s still an issue that MLS will almost always take that fifth place.
Even if Concacaf adjusts that, it’s hard to make the case for more teams entering the round of 16 from the rest of the region. Even by stacking the draw to give weaker teams a competitive path through the quarterfinals, they’ll eventually run into a Club America scenario. That’s been the MLS problem throughout the history of the Champions League. Applying it to other countries solves nothing.
Neither does hoping the standard raises across the region simply through exposure. It’s a safe assumption that the Central American club teams are well aware of the level of play in Liga MX. Losing to Mexico’s strongest teams probably isn’t going to be a motivational lesson. It’s also not likely to encourage those teams to spend money they don’t have. Without some version of a Caribbean super league, there’s not the same interest in sponsors and broadcasters providing the lines of revenue to build stronger clubs. Even with that, there’s the proof of concept question for a regional league.
The same should be true for the Concacaf Champions League. Right now, it’s a lengthy experiment that proves the obvious. What’s left unaddressed is why that’s necessary.
Also in the soccer news, Cameron Carter-Vickers’s Swansea City beat Stoke City 3-1 in the Championship. Daniel James opened the scoring for Swansea in the 23rd with Mike van der Hoorn doubling the lead in the 40th. Stoke pulled a goal back in first-half stoppage time. Stoke saw red in the 54th and 60th minutes. Oliver McBurnie scored Swansea’s third goal in the 86th. A league down, Lynden Gooch wasn’t in the squad for Sunderlands 1-1 home draw with Burton Albion.
DC United and Montreal finished 0-0 at Audi Field. DC had no shots on goal to Montreal’s 1. The Sacramento Bee’s Tony Bizjak reports on council approval for the proposed MLS stadium. The Athletic’s Pablo Maurer profiles DC United player care manager Rory Molleda.
The NY Times’ Rory Smith on Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola’s issue with away games in the Champions League knockout rounds. AP’s Graham Dunbar has AC Milan’s issues with Financial Fair Play rules.
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