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Making the CONCACAF Champions League Work

shalrie joseph Making the CONCACAF Champions League Work

The inaugural CONCACAF Champions League is in the books and to nobody’s surprise it was won by a Mexican side, Atlante. The club which struggled to attract fans in Mexico City until moving to Cancun less than two years ago now represents the region at the FIFA Club World Cup.

But the tournament has proven to have many flaws. Most notably the over representation from a league whose last CONCACAF finalist was nine years ago and the involvement of second division sides in the tournament. A tournament that features as many automatic entries from MLS as the FMF can only be said to completely lack credibility.

My opinion which truthfully doesn’t matter in this debate is that every single Mexican First Division side would compete to win MLS Cup. Even Nexaca or Indios this season would be among the handful of strongest MLS teams. So given that opinion, I obviously do not believe the two leagues should be equally represented in the Continental Championship.

MLS fans often make assumptions about Mexican Football based on wishful thinking or simple ignorance. I’ve read many an article claiming the leagues are comparable in quality. As I have stated before I am a strong supporter of MLS but the hubris some supporters insist on showing with comparisons which lack credibility or any sort of critical eye on their favored product are simply laughable.

Most MLS fans don’t watch Mexican Football regularly (I on the other hand try to catch at least two FMF games each weekend and am looking forward to the Clausura playoffs which start this week) and base their analysis of the league on what English language European or MLS oriented journalists write about it.

It is really difficult to describe the gap between the two leagues because I think it is possibly as wide as the perceived gulf between MLS and many second tier European leagues. MLS fans need not despair: The league is what it is, the only live first division football the world’s most powerful and important nation can provide. But to continue to make silly comparisons between an obvious third tier league and those that are first and second tier leagues undermines the cause of promoting the sport and the American game.

This all having been said, MLS deserves some guarantees from CONCACAF going forward. This means two guaranteed slots for US based MLS teams and a guaranteed spot for Toronto FC and then beginning in 2011, a playoff between TFC and the Whitecaps.  USL-1 sides would be ineligible for these slots and would be forced to qualify through a play off with the 3rd place Honduran team before the qualifying round.  The reigning USL-1 Champion (this year, Vancouver) would participate in that play in game.

Puerto Rico would still be able to qualify and compete in the CCL via the CFU Caribbean Club Cup. The Islanders are in the semi-finals to be held this weekend and a win there would put them back in the tournament. Canada’s spot should be given automatically to Toronto FC for the 2009-10, and 2010-11 tournaments. Beginning in 2011 a playoff should occur between TFC and the Whitecaps, with Montreal’s potential MLS entry joining the fray in the future.

The two vacated US spots would be awarded one each to Mexico and the Caribbean. Costa Rica would not gain a spot as has been argued by some considering the poor performance of Costa Rican teams in the recently completed competition, even though Saprissa did reach the finals of the final CONCACAF Champions Cup.

Thus MLS would be reduced to two US based spots and one Canadian spot. This actually matches the current guarantee for MLS spots with the Canadian Cup and US Open Cup being eliminated as qualifying tournaments. So MLS isn’t being punished, but the FMF is being rewarded based on performance while the Caribbean is being rewarded for the Islanders run and Joe Public’s 6-1 aggregate thrashing of an MLS team last year.

The USSF could under this formula ask CONCACAF to award spots not to MLS specifically but to the federation which then would allow for the US Open Cup champion to re-enter the tournament. However, I do not expect the USSF to make such a move and likely will embrace this as a way to reinforce the USL’s second division status which has now become questionable in the eyes of some, thanks to the most recent CONCACAF tournament. Thus the Open Cup would lose its automatic spot and the Nutralite Canadian Championship can be suspended until 2011 at the earliest.

The Open Cup is not a proper cup competition to determine a spot in a Continental Championship. The USSF awards home games based on financial bids from participating clubs. In the later rounds of the tournament this almost always means MLS clubs play host to USL-1 or USL-2 clubs.

I’ve heard many an MLS proponent put down USL by stating that the MLS always wins the Open Cup. But the reality is the MLS teams tend to win Open Cup matches at their home ground while USL teams tend to win on their home ground. MLS teams almost always host the semifinals or finals and thus win the tournament.

The criteria MLS uses to determine who fills its CCL entries is entirely up to the league itself. Mexico would gain a fifth spot to presumably be assigned to the winner of Interliga, or by using some other formula while every semifinalist in the Caribbean Cup would now make the Champions League. Hopefully at some point in the near future Belize can earn back the spot that CONCACAF took away from the nation last week and awarded to Honduras, giving the Honduran League a third CL qualifier. We propose to allow USL-1 to have an opportunity to gain that spot given to Honduras last year through a play in game prior to the qualifying round.

Only by recognizing the pre-eminence of the FMF in the region can the CONCACAF Champions League gain the credibility it needs and quite frankly deserves as our continental championship. Much like UEFA’s formulas for awarding spots based on countries this is a work in progress. We must be patient as CONCACAF tries to establish this tournament the way we all know it should be.

The final breakdown would look like this:

Mexico  5

CFU      4

USA       2    (MLS only)

Honduras 2

Costa Rica  2

Guatemala 2

Panama 2

El Salvador 2

Nicaragua 1

Canada 1 (MLS Only)

Play in  1: USL-1 Champions (US/Canada only) versus Honduran 3rd place. *

If Puerto Rico Islanders win USL-1, the league runner up qualifies for the play in game.

This entry was posted in CONCACAF Champions League, Leagues: Major League Soccer. Bookmark the permalink.

About Kartik Krishnaiyer

A lifelong lover of soccer, the beautiful game, he served from January 2010 until May 2013 as the Director of Communications and Public Relations for the North American Soccer League (NASL). Raised on the Fort Lauderdale Strikers of the old NASL, Krishnaiyer previously hosted the American Soccer Show on the Champions Soccer Radio Network, the Major League Soccer Talk podcast and the EPL Talk Podcast. His soccer writing has been featured by several media outlets including The Guardian and The Telegraph. He is the author of the book Blue With Envy about Manchester City FC.
View all posts by Kartik Krishnaiyer →

39 Responses to Making the CONCACAF Champions League Work

  1. Vnice says:

    Uh, no…

    Toronto FC should NOT be automatic entry every year because they are Canadian MLS. Especially when you say that Puerto Rico should qualify via the Caribbean Cup. What, the V Cup in Canada doesn’t count? Being the only MLS team in a country is a poor excuse to let them into such a huge tournament.

    I am in favor of reducing MLS presence in CCL, but not this way.

  2. Bob Dobalina says:

    This is perhaps the stupidest article I have ever seen on this site. So much fail.

  3. Pumas Fan says:

    Great post. It is a travesty that U.S. MLS fans are not more interested in the Mexican First Division. That’s like living in Spain or England and showing no interest in the Serie A. There is great football played every week of both seasons in Mexico, and as a football purist, I enjoy watching the FMF games (which are always almost in full capacity stadiums) way more than the MLS matches. I wish the CONCACAF had even 1/10th the feel of the UEFA Cup or even the Libertadores, but until U.S. fans take the Mexican Primera more seriously and until more matches are shown on some of the English language soccer channels, we are missing out on a huge goldmine of football opportunities in our own backyard.

  4. Brazilian Fan says:

    Wow, why Mr. Kartik?

    This is totally wrong. There is no problem of second or third division teams to get into Champions League. Thats why we love soccer. Everybody has chance!!!

    Let me tell that teams from second or third division in Brazil won the Brazilian Cup (Copa do Brasil) a couple times and did an exellent job in Copa Libertadores.

    Well, i agree with you that perhaps MLS have more places in CL than they deserve but you can solve this just with more qualifying games with another Caribbean teams. If the teams are good enough, they will pass to the next stages.

    cheers

  5. Mexican Football says:

    I agree 100% that the USA slots must be taken away. Hell, I’m gonna email CONCACAF about it right after this post. This decade, a Mexican team has been in every single CONCACAF club championship final. Not a single USA team has.

    The Mexican playoffs already started last nite, Kartik. The Owls beat the Pumas 2-0, then Puebla beat Monterrey 3-1. Tonite at 5, there is a doubleheader of Pachuca, then Toluca, the 2 giants. It’s on Aztec America TV. Pregame show is at 4 Central. Very hot chic on that show.

    I agree with Pumas fan 100% too. An absolute shame that Americans don’t enjoy all the Mexican football that is offered to them.

  6. Joshua says:

    Crap article…
    no USL teams allowed? without a regulation system, this would be completely unfair for non-MLS clubs.
    Fck man!

  7. Matthew says:

    This reads like someone who’s pissed at the performance of USL1 teams in recent CCL showings, as compared to the pitiful performance by MLS squads. This is no different than a 5 year getting pissed at losing at a game, and asking his parents to tell everyone who’s beating him to go home.

  8. JB says:

    I don’t really think gifting a spot to MLS clubs is going to improve their performance. I guess the author thinks it will.

    Settle it on the pitch.

  9. Chase Hoffman says:

    My problem with this is the elimination of the US Open Cup. The FA Cup in England comes with a guaranteed Europa Cup spot. If Dag and Red, or Derby County, or whoever manage to win it, they get to go to UEFA competition. Why would you eliminate that same system from US teams?

    This seems like a thinly veiled attempt to consign USL-1 to the depths in order to somehow bolster MLS. I don’t think “weakening” the USL helps the cause of US Soccer, or MLS, for that matter. Competition is a good thing.

    And before you get into the multinational flavor of the league, note that there are MANY instances of teams from one nation play in another’s league. Cardiff City and Swansea in the English League system, San Marino fields a team in Serie C1, etc.

  10. ERic says:

    Wow. Impressive job pissing off everyone but the Mexican fans!;)

    You have some good ideas worth talking about. The idea of adjusting how many teams from each country based on their success (like Europe does) is an excellent one. And, sadly, I have to agree that MLS has done crap. Until the success of the USL1 teams this year, I’ve been inclined to say that they’ll always do crap because of the way the season is set up. We will always be in pre-season form at the most important part of the tournament.

    Obviously, though, that didn’t get in the way of Montreal and Puerto Rico, so obviously MLS has some major issues that it needs to get straight. Maybe docking them a spot or two in the tournament would help.

    The question then becomes where do you set the cutoff? MLS teams made it to both semis in ’07 and ’08. Do you dock them for just one epically bad year?

    It seems to me that you’re writing a bit of a screed based on just one bad MLS year. I did some research, and UEFA sets their participants based on a Country Ranking that takes the previous 5 years into account. So for the ’09/’10 CL, the rankings from 03/04 to 07/08 are used.

    I don’t know that CONCACAF has anything like that (though this blogger does some stuff like that now and then). But I’ll do a rough one.

    From 2004-2008, no team outside the US, Costa Rick and Mexico made it to the semifinal. CR actually won it twice and came in 2nd in ’08. Looking at the results, it seems to me like if any reapportionment should be done, one spot should be taken from the US and given to Costa Rica.

    As much as it pains me to see a door shut to international competition, the Open Cup should probably not be a route into the CCL. The only reason to keep that there is to try and increase the interest in the Open Cup. But, obviously, even with that incentive, MLS teams don’t seem to care.

  11. ERic says:

    @Chase – if CONCACAF were big enough to have a second level clubs competition like Europe, then I could see the Open Cup being a route. But CONCACAF isn’t. So, should the Open Cup be a route in? I don’t know. I’m going at it a different direction — should the US have four spots. And as you can see by my post, I don’t think so. And, though I haven’t said so explicitly, I think the Shield winner and the MLS Cup finalists should be the three that get in.

    As to the ‘thinly veiled’, yeah, I see your point. I thought that the author did a bad job and dragged some silly biases into a discussion that’s worth having.

  12. I’ve actually reconsidered my view on the USL matter and will be revising the post vis a vis them. But no more spots for MLS. I just have to decide whether the USL-1 play in I propose comes at MLS’ expense or not. Stay tuned.

  13. Tony says:

    This is a pretty biased article that has no interest in providing “fairness.” From this article I can conclude that England should be allowed more “guaranteed” spots in the European Champions League since, for the past 2 years, all four teams made it to the quarter-finals, and three advanced to the semi’s. I think all of the Italian teams need to go through the qualifier rounds now, since they had such a poor showing. That is how to make the cup more exciting. Let’s change the criteria every year based on past results. Next year all Mexican teams are automatically qualified, since they did so well. Comparing the US to the European system is not going to work. By that logic, the LA Galaxy should be a USL PDL team by now. I am interested to see how the US USL teams do against the MLS teams in the Open Cup, to see if the USL has improved as much as I think.

  14. Alejo says:

    Josh and Matt, SPOT ON.

    And why does CONCACAF have to step in? You don’t whant the USL-1 to “show up” your precious league in the CCL, then get some better clubs in the competition period.

    Even if it is a “second division” in the eyes of the fukin powers that be, USL-1 still deserves the respect and space that goes with being a fully pro league that is completely independent and seperate from MLS.

  15. Chapka says:

    1. Refusing to allow USL teams to participate would be contrary to the idea of a cup–where we love to see minnows overachieve, and be seen by just about everyone as punishment for the USL’s success. It would be horrible press for MLS, as well as totally unnecessary. Other than the Islanders, I doubt there’ll be a single USL team in next year’s tournament.

    2. While I agree in general that MLS is overrepresented, but it also seems a bit silly to make grand pronouncements about how the tournament should be realigned based on one year’s worth of games. It’s also worth noting that MLS is at a pretty serious disadvantage in the CCL because (1) the games take place in our offseason, and (2) we qualify teams almost a year in advance, meaning we aren’t usually sending our best sides.

    3. It’s also possible that this was a particularly bad year for MLS in the competition. It’s not surprising that D.C. United crashed out of the toughest group in the CCL, given that they’d finished 10th in MLS in the season that had just ended. Qualifying a year in advance, that’ll happen sometimes.

    4. That being said, I think two or three spots for the U.S. is reasonable in theory, although I wouldn’t give those spots to Mexico; four teams in a tournament is enough for any country, especially a dominant one. But who do you give it to? Five slots for Mexico is silly no matter how much better they are; an all-Mexican quarterfinal is already perfectly possible.

    Let’s look at the last five CONCACAF Champions’ Cup finals. Who made the quarterfinals?

    Mexico: 10 teams
    MLS: 5 teams
    Costa Rica: 4 teams
    CFU: 1 team

    Saying that MLS is overrepresented with respect to Mexico is fine. Saying they’re overrepresented with respect to anyone esle, wtih the possible exception of Costa Rica, is not. Saying they’re overrepresented with respect to the CFU makes no sense.

    5. Nobody qualifies for the CCL through the Caribbean Championship, which is a national team competition. I think you meant to say the CFU Club Championship.

  16. Chapka says:

    re: my last; of course, I meant semifinals, not quarterfinals, in point 4.

  17. Instead of focusing on making the CONCACAF Champions League to work, how about making MLS clubs (and the league itself) in these CONCACAF competitions to work. Taking away certain spots in MLS or USL-1 does not help MLS clubs in that matter. You should focus on over-expansions, salary caps (CBA), no reserve leagues, roster sizes and the standard of referees. Those items there are hurting the QUALITY of MLS right there.

  18. WonsanUnited says:

    CONCACAF Champions League is a joke. But this article is ridiculous. I like the formula they have now, although they should get rid of Belize’s qualifying spot and give the CFU another one instead. Otherwise it’s all fine and doesn’t need to be reworked.

  19. eplnfl says:

    The more MLS spots the better. The more MLS involvement the better. I think TFC will be an excellent representative of MLS. It will help the tournament grow!

  20. Lars says:

    I’m totally against taking away the current Canadian Championship format. And, in fact, the CSL champion should be allowed to participate as a fourth team in it.

    Oh yeah, I’m a TFC fan.

    I’ll tell you one thing, to a lot of TFC fans, the Championship means more than the MLS Cup does, because quite frankly, Vancouver and Montreal fans are arrogant as hell and deserve to be smacked down. Montreal fans claim they beat TFC, which the Impact has never done (only drawn), while Vancouver fans points to the success of Montreal as proof of the Whitecaps superiority over TFC (bizarre logic).

    On top of that CONCACAF means more, because you qualify for the Club World Cup.

    I think that one slot should be awarded in the Open Cup, one for the Supporters’ Shield and one for the MLS Cup. Give the USL Champion the final slot for qualifying.

  21. Berlin says:

    USL’s performance last year demonstrates without a doubt that they deserve to be in. There should absolutely be some kind of review process on an on-going basis to determine qualifier spots so that leagues that are growing (MLS) can receive spots when warranted. After last year’s fiasco by the MLS squads, this is not one of those years. MLS should be ashamed for the lack of emphasis that they place on these games, but I suppose money talks and CCL has yet to prove itself in that regard.

    Also, Kartik almost always gives USL way more love than I think is warranted. Scratching USL clubs from the CCL doesn’t appear to me a slight against USL; rather it’s a reflection of a larger issue with how to deal with a non-relegation system where substandard teams (Dallas) continue to compete in a top flight league while deserving USL squads (PR) toil in anonymity. As a result of this inconsistency with other world leagues, this creates the perception, even if not reality, that the CCL harbors less than top flight competition.

  22. The US Open Cup is NOT the FA Cup.

    Games are generally held at the home stadium of the bigger club with the finals being held in a home venue. For example last year it is highly likely Charleston would have won had it been a proper cup held in a neutral site, but it was held at RFK and after a dodgy call, DCU won.

    I don’t think a tournament that rewards the bigger club with home games is a proper competition to qualify for a continental championship. Cups in Europe are not done this way, and the Canadian Cup is home and home, totally round robin so that too is a more legitimate competition.

  23. Andre says:

    Bottom line….
    The North American soccer system is a huge mess.
    I take it that it will continue to be this way until things settle down 60 or 70 years from now.

  24. Pumas Fan says:

    Off the subject a little – how about the MLS All Stars play an All Star Team from the Mexican Primera every year. THAT would be an All Star game worth watching AND it would interest the huge Hispanic population in the MLS and current MLS fans in the FMF. It’s win-win. It sure beats watching the MLS stars battle some EPL also ran.

  25. eplnfl says:

    My thoughts too on the All-Star game Pumas Fan. I t would be a real mid-summer classic!

  26. CleartheBall says:

    WEAK. I watch Mexican League soccer and don’t think it’s all that. I think its fair to say that, if this tournament was played near the end of the MLS season, offseason for Mexico, MLS teams would win the majority. The Mexican league plays an attractive, ball on the ground style as opposed to the MLS physical in the air style. Many of the Mexican teams would get pummeled on the field against MLS teams, assuming MLS refs. I will say, the Mexican league, as a whole, may be slightly better, not a whole league better, and their fan support is much better. However, the lower Mexican teams would not challenge for the title. All in all, the argument is impossible to win one way or the other until MLS teams and fans care in the slightest about CONCACAF Champions league. Lets make the payoff high enough for this, as well as the US Open cup, that MLS teams will treat them as more than an exhibition. Right now, I’m much more interested in league play or even the “Superliga.”

  27. CleartheBall says:

    Pumas, I like that idea. I don’t ever want the MLS all stars playing any club team from Mexico or South America. EPL also rans are better and more marketable in the US. All Stars vs. All Stars sounds great.

  28. Mexican Football says:

    Cleartheball is a fool. The payoff for the CCL is already decent. Even last place in the CWC is lucrative, so yeah, it’s worth winning. You’re just making excuses for your vastly inferior league.

    I hope you guys watched the Mexican playoffs tonight , if not the Liberators Cup matches. Great football was played. Check out the 2nd legs of the quarterfinals this weekend. 2 games each on Saturday and Sunday. First 3 games will be on Telemundo. Last one on Telefutura.

  29. CleartheBall says:

    Mexican football shows skill, just no physicality. Are they playing a no slide tackle rule like the 8 year olds?
    CWC can be lucrative, but it’s a fool’s bet. It’s near impossible for MLS to put in the kind of effort necessary in their offseason to perform well. Next time your team loses an exhibition preseason match to an inferior team, I’m sure you’ll use the same excuse.
    Do you have any idea what the payoff for CCL is? A quick google search as well as a bigsoccer search leads me to believe it’s not common knowledge but that most feel it’s NOT very lucrative.
    Finally, a difference of opinion does not make one a “fool.” You enjoy your Mexican league, I’ll enjoy MLS and well both be glad we have something more entertaining than baseball to spend our time with.

  30. A-RET says:

    Clear the Ball,

    I respect your passion for MLS but if you think MLS teams would win the majority of neutral site midseason clashes against Mexican opposition you’re living in a fools paradise.

    Yes MLS is more physical, in fact alot of times the league crosses the line where a lack of technical skill or tactical savvy by the players and coaches is made up for with reckless fouling and hacking. The FMF is more graceful and more technical. I see more bad giveaways in one MLS or USL game than in the entire weekend of FMF action.

    I’m American and want MLS, USL and the PDL to all succeed. I go to West Mass USL-2 games when I can. But to pretend the MLS is even remotely on the same level as the Mexican League opens you up for ridicule. I like Kartik hate the comparisons MLS fans make with other leagues to make them feel good. Support the league because it’s our league in our country but stop pretending its some sort of super league.

    Brad Feldman and Greg Lalas should be ashamed of themselves for their commentary during Revs telecasts. It’s impossible to take those guys seriously the way they talk about MLS.

  31. Jeff says:

    Honestly, MLS should either commit to taking this tournament seriously or drop out entirely giving the US spots to USL. The league should be embarrassed by last year’s performance instead of making excuses or pretending it did not happen. American soccer fans refuse to shame them into it by parroting the same exact stupid excuses about fixture congestion, pre-season, et.

    I agree with your assessment of the Open Cup. It’s a sham cup. So much potential but currently a total sham.

  32. Max says:

    MLS is lucky to even keep three spots under your formula based on performance.

  33. Berlin says:

    Great idea on the All-Stars v. All-Stars! Sign me up. I’ll actually watch. I’ll actually care. It’ll be the only all-star game I watch all year. However, the game can only be played in Columbus or Alaska.

  34. Mexican Football says:

    Cleartheball: Football is The Beautiful Game, not The Bruising Game. If you want tackling, go watch Rugby. A-RET said it better than I can. He shot you down pretty good.

    The payoff for the CCL is the CWC where you can earn alot of $$$. And stop with the preseason excuses. 13 European leagues play Spring-to-Fall, are they complaining about the UEFA CL? No, they’re not.

    Jeff and Max are right. That league should just drop out.

    Haha, Berlin! I’d rep you if I could.

  35. dude says:

    So Mexian clubs are more than twice superior to MLS, and you didn’t even think of USL clubs? Right now, Mexican clubs are superior, I won’t deny that, but they are also older, and the quality US soccer is steadily rising. Yes, this tournament is a joke. But comparing us to Panama and Honduras? Wow, you’ve lost it Kartik.

    ps. Think Mexican fans are looking for any opportunity to claim dominance because their national team is now a joke.

  36. Tom says:

    “That’s like living in Spain or England and showing no interest in the Serie A.”

    Not even Italians care about Serie A, as evidenced by its woeful attendance numbers. That is because it is a garbage league, even if it offers one of the highest levels of play anywhere in the world. It is everything English football was in the 1980′s and more; jaundiced, crumbling stadiums filled to half capacity playing host to games whose outcomes more likely than not have already been decided.

  37. Tom says:

    Also, if it weren’t for those second division teams, there wouldn’t have been anything compelling about the tournament in the first place. USL sides actually care about the competition. If anything, give them all of MLS’s berths.

  38. Tom says:

    But this all speaks to a larger issue: As long as it continues to operate as a closed, unregulated monopoly, then the USSF has absolutely no right to sanction it as the country’s only first division league. As recently as 2002 the Supreme Court has made it very clear that it has no intention of ever enforcing the Sherman Anti-trust Act as it pertains to professional sports, and in fact has acted as the chief accessory to their further sodomy of American law, their weak-kneed excuse being, on the occasion that they actually feel obliged to give one, that it is still theoretically possible to create a competing league. But in this case there is not even that recourse. The USSF has made itself clear that it has no intention of ever sanctioning a second first division league. Is there any ambiguity left to hide behind in this case? By ensuring that the MLS remains free from any serious competition, and by apportioning it three of America’s four berths in the Concacaf Champion’s League and none to the only league in the United States that actually shows any interest in the tournament, the USSF clearly and unambiguously is in violation of American anti-trust law!

  39. EB says:

    Mr. Kartik:

    you MUST have written this to incite the responses. There is NO logic to your system. Stupid article.

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