Is CONCACAF's Champions' League a Disaster For US Soccer?
There's no doubt Jack Warner is a smart man.
The CONCACAF chairman and FIFA VP observed the revenue machine that UEFA's club competitions brought in and stared intently at two cash cows in his own backyard: Mexico and the United States.
Under the guise of fairer competition for clubs from smaller countries, a new tournament was devised to replace the old Champions' Cup. Not doing a good job of hiding his inspiration, Warner named the new tournament the CONCACAF Champions' League.
With the potential for eight of the sixteen teams coming from countries with huge money-making potential in the US and Mexico, Warner set out to draw bigger ratings and exposure for clubs traditionally overlooked because of the country they belong to.
Eight teams qualified directly, while the other eight had to come from preliminary rounds. The two Mexican teams qualified without breaking a sweat.
Ironically, Warner's two primary interests met head to head when MLS club New England Revolution met with Joe Public FC, a team primarily owned by the Trinidad and Tobago businessman.
Public soundly defeated New England, adding to a growing list of disappointments for a team with four MLS Cup defeats in four tries through its history. Adding to Warner's concern, the other MLS club in the preliminary round, Chivas USA, was unceremoniously bounced by Panama's Tauro FC.
With the total number of games (and highly priced tickets) to be held in the comfort of US stadiums, MLS' reputation as a regional giant took a ghastly hit.
Nearly at the end of the first round, D.C. United was easily defeated at home by Costa Rica's Saprissa, with reigning MLS Cup champs Houston Dynamo still to make their debut at home against El Salvador's Luis Angel Firpo.
Things get worse for D.C. as they were placed in the competition's "Group of Death". Along with Saprissa, Mexican giants Cruz Azul and Honduras' Marathon round out the foursome.
With their upcoming game being a visit to Honduras against Marathon, D.C. could very likely start out the competition with two negative results.
Houston's foursome is slightly more forgiving. Five time Mexican league champions UNAM Pumas head the group, while Luis Angel Firpo and Panama's reigning champions, San Francisco FC completing the table of opposition.
With two of their biggest cards already out of the running and one of the two that remain off to a slow start, the question is: Can MLS salvage the tournament? What kind of showing will it take to appease critics that already point out the early failures?
While Mexican clubs have cruised to better results in the current tournament utilizing "B" squads and mostly youth squad players, can the talent in MLS truly be overstated?
Or is it that MLS clubs still have a difficult time adjusting to international competition? After all, since the league's inception in 1996, only two teams (DC United and LA Galaxy) have won a CONCACAF tournament.
Either way, MLS' superior investment and somewhat proven international talent should prevail someday. Until then, supporters from smaller countries and schadenfraude-loving Mexicans can rejoice with headlines like this:
Joe Public trounce American club; Chivas USA bullied by Tauro.
I can just see Mr. Warner now, simultaneously cheering for his club and squirming at the dollars he's hemorrhaging already.
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