By Luis Bueno – RIVERSIDE, CA (Jun 24, 2020) US Soccer Players - Amidst the COVID-19 global pandemic, soccer leagues worldwide are in flux halting operations to try and halt the spread of the potentially deadly virus. In North America, the fallout was as severe as it has been in other places. MLS teams got in two matches apiece before stopping. Only recently, the league announced plans to return. Liga MX was halfway through its season before shutting down. The league eventually abandoned its Clausura 2020 campaign.
Another competition that is in the throes of chaos is the Concacaf Champions League. Leagues are trying to either restart their campaigns or looking ahead at the upcoming season and reinventing themselves in the process. Concacaf is trying to deal with that uncertainty. They're also managing the pandemic situations and responses from their member nations.
Concacaf's 2020 Champions League remains stuck at the quarterfinal stage. The next edition was supposed to start in July. The present and future of the entire competition remain an open question.
There's a simple enough solution. Scrap one and alter the plans for the other. 2020 seems unlikely to resume given the needs of the domestic leagues. The next edition could revert to an earlier model to make sure they can get the games in. That would mean playing the entirety of the tournament over a week at a neutral site.
While not ideal, few things in this COVID-19 world are. Leagues and competitions have no choice but to think outside the box. Playing all games in empty stadiums, for instance. Concacaf is counting down time to face the reality of this situation and do the same.
This competition must continue in some form or another. It is a significant tournament for teams across the confederation. Because of the nature of the event, teams from numerous countries competing across many international venues, it has been hit hard. Because of that, it only makes sense to scale back and move on.
It is highly unlikely that Concacaf will be able to unpause the current tournament. Three of the four quarterfinal series were able to get the first legs in. LAFC vs Cruz Azul ended up suspended just hours before kickoff. Not only are remaining teams in various forms of fitness, but leagues are all over the place in trying to get the games going. MLS will hold its MLS Is Back Tournament in July and August and then presumably will pick up its 2020 campaign in some form. Liga MX meanwhile is supposed to start in July, but there is much doubt as to whether that will happen or not. Costa Rica was able to resume its league. The two-leg final between Saprissa and Alajuelense will play out in the coming week.
There is too much uncertainty and too many obstacles to pick up where the tournament left off. Because three of the four quarterfinal series already started, anything short of that will alter the competition even more. With all due respect to what UEFA is trying to do to complete its Champions League in August, it's no longer in the same scope.
The 2021 edition meanwhile can still happen, but also in a different format. It is unreasonable to think that the competition will go on as per usual. The round of 16 played in home-and-away series in several countries across the region seems unlikely for some time. Even though all of that would start in February 2021, there is reason to believe that things will not be quite back to normal by then. Concacaf would need a lot to go right in the fight to end this pandemic.
There is the not-so-small question of international travel to deal with, regardless of how Concacaf restarts its tournament. The European Union, for instance, is mulling whether to bar Americans from entering the EU, a travel ban that could start on July 1. The United States and Canada have mutually agreed to slow nonessential travel between the two countries, while the US and Mexico have a similar agreement in place as well.
It would be easier for CONCACAF to hold its tournament in the span of one week to 10 days. It would not be something new for this tournament. MLS teams began competing in the Champions Cup in 1997. Between that year and 2000, the tournament was held in a handful of venues, as it was for the 2000 edition. That year, the quarterfinals were held in Fullerton, California, while the semifinals and final/3rd-place at the LA Coliseum. The entire tournament happened between January 16-21, 2001, a span of just six days.
Finding dates and venues would be the most important thing. MLS is trying to show that it is possible to gather all teams and hold a competition in one venue. The biggest hurdle would be clearing international borders, but charter flights and quarantining could help get things going in the right direction. Provided the MLS tournament succeeds, the easiest thing might be to hold the Champions League in Orlando. Somewhere in the United States, though, seems like the best fit given the ease to travel to and the facilities that would be available.
While it would not be an ideal way of holding the competition, the tournament would yield a champion. It would give fans something to look forward to while maintaining the Champions League's history and tradition. Considering how much work Concacaf put into getting their club championship to this level, that's something worth preserving.
Luis Bueno is a veteran soccer writer. Follow him on twitter @BuenoSoccer.
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