Matt Reis was the hero in the 2008 Superliga Final/AP
A day after the US suffered its worst ever loss to Brazil and four days after our national team was beaten by Italy by the worst scoreline since 1934 let’s refocus temporarily on the club game. (I suspect thanks to the disgraceful US performances of the last month the conversation about the national team is going to extend far beyond the final whistle in the Confederations Cup)
The third annual Superliga begins tomorrow. Unlike the first two editions which featured the best from MLS against some of the best from Mexico, this event features the second set of MLS’ best against four teams from Mexico that finished in the bottom half of the Clausura standings.
Santos Laguna – 9th
Atlas – 13th
San Luis – 15th
UNAL Tigres – 16th
Now Atlas performed well in the Copa Libertadoras a few years back while Santos simply had a bad run. But inviting San Luis and Tigres is interesting. San Luis played well in the Libertadoras this season, but is a club without much of an American based following and very little history. The club was in the second division as recently as four years ago. Tigres does have a following especially in the border areas of Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. But the club has not been as strong the past few seasons as they were in the early part of this decade.
Nonetheless, thank Soccer United Marketing for continuing to try and bring top football to stadiums in the United States. All of the European club tours are nice, but some of us are deeply grounded in the American game and CONCACAF and we like seeing Mexican teams and the FMF in general as often as possible. Looking for a Superliga favorite? How about Chivas USA who is still smarting form being eliminated in a “home” game last year at Titan Stadium in Fullerton.
Toronto FC clinched a CONCACAF Champions League birth with an improbable 6-1 win over the Montreal Impact at Saputo Stadium. Toronto FC will be overwhelming favorites to reach the group stage of the tournament having the good fortune of drawing second division club Puerto Rico Islanders whose CONCACAF run of last season has zero chance of being repeated. Colin Clarke’s side has won their past two USL matches but prior to that was dropping points to inferior teams and was having lineup issues. TFC should advance easily, and Vancouver would also have advanced had they won the Canadian Championship.
Miami FC is now sitting in the last playoff spot in USL-1. Despite playing a fifth game in nine days, the Florida based club won in Cleveland 2-1. Miami’s travel itinerary over the past week plus is precisely why the arguments made by MLS fans about fixture congestion costing the league’s clubs in CONCACAF while ignoring USL’s own scheduling issues is foolish. Miami Ultra’s President Pieter Brown had a good story last week on USL’s scheduling. Miami FC played in an Open Cup game at home last Tuesday, in Vanocuver Friday, home against Austin Sunday, home in an Open Cup game Tuesday at Cleveland Thursday and again at Cleveland Saturday. That’s 6 games in 11 days, and that does not happen to MLS clubs.
Thank the College World Series spillover crowd for giving MLS its highest ESPN rating in years- a 0.4 on ESPN2 the other night for Seattle-DC United. As much as “soccer snobs” complain about ESPN preempting MLS for what are ultimately more meaningful and interesting sporting events the ESPN tie has its benefits. Had the MLS game been moved to ESPN Classic as some have suggested the typical ESPN audience of less than half of the spillover audience would have seen the match. Some may have liked it so much they’ll come back.
I’ve heard whispers among some in the media and fans that the current poor form of the USMNT is bound to affect interest in MLS and USL. This is no brainer: unlike more developed football countries where the club game can sustain a bad dip from the national team, in the US far more fans follow the national team than the domestic leagues. (In fact I have several friends who I cannot convince to watch MLS and sometimes don’t even bother with European football but never miss a big national team game) For years now MLS and the A-League/USL has fed off the National Team to hook fans and provide spikes in interest. With the national team according to some pundits (including one well respect commentator on the most recent MLS Talk podcast) playing worse than 15 years ago when the A-League was basically semi-professional and MLS did not exist, the USSF needs to consider making some changes if even cosmetic to the national team program.