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World Football Challenge: A Worrying Few Weeks

2009 wfc challenge 412x114 300x83 World Football Challenge: A Worrying Few Weeks

The inaugural World Football Challenge begins tomorrow on American soil, in the Bay Area.  Much like the “World Series of Football” in 2005, this event conflicts directly with our region’s Continental Championship which also is contested on American soil. But unlike that tournament which was promoted by SUM and involved MLS teams, this event shuts out the American club game as if it does not exist. That summer also some European teams toured independently of SUM and also conflicted with the USMNT’s Gold Cup run.

Perhaps this tournament reflects a utopian model for what some so-called fans of the game want to witness in this country. Elite European teams with few if any Americans (the three European teams involved in this tournament have two players total from the CONCACAF region) touring the country, allowing us to pretend for a minute we are in Europe and we do not have our own club game or national team to support. These clubs and their organizers taking what little dollars families have allocated for viewing of football in this recessionary economy and spending them on maintaining European club dominance not on growing the American game.

The attitude of some fans of the game in this country is worrying. Regardless of where you live in the United States, chances are you are within driving distance of a club or semi-professional club. This summer, we’ve seen the remarkable run of the US National Team in the FIFA Confederations Cup, and top quality international football once again on our soil.

We’ve seen an improvement in MLS quality, some good football in USL-1 and USL-2, and even PDL teams sell players on to perceived power teams in Europe. We have also seen MLS and USL-1 provide between them more players for the CONCACAF Gold Cup than any other leagues.  We’ve noted the number of players who have come through the PDL or our College system that has become legitimate stars for the USMNT or other CONCACAF nations.

But like in 2005, when the US struggled to get past Honduras and Panama in the semifinal and finals of the Gold Cup, many of our fans are focused on other things that are almost entirely extraneous to the game in this country.

Even worse,  Mexican fans are forced to choose this weekend: their national team contesting a continental championship or Club America, Mexico’s second most popular team (okay, maybe it’s most popular- this depends entirely on whom you ask) playing against an Italian heavyweight. The matches start at the same time tomorrow, with one on Univision and the other ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes which cannibalizes the audience.

I found it highly annoying and somewhat offensive the other day, when I spoke to a friend of mine from the Washington DC area. This friend, who I’ve worked in politics with is excited about Chelsea coming to Baltimore. I asked him if he had been by to see United play this year and he told me “Manchester United isn’t part of this tournament.” Perhaps, it’s my own peculiar thinking that leads me to assume when I say United to someone from suburban Maryland, I am talking about DC United.

Long story short: this friend of mine not been to a DC United game this season and was unaware of the local USL-2 team that plays in his neighborhood. He did however consider venturing to Baltimore for Crystal Palace’s visit to play their USL-2 affiliate this past week. He didn’t make it but felt that trip was more worth his time than seeing the MLS team that plays close to his office or the USL team that plays near his home.

This story is repeated I am sure nationally, as fans of the beautiful game believe anything that happens to have an American flavor is somehow tainted, even though many of them have not given the American game a real opportunity. People claim to support the game but yet turn their backs on their own domestic leagues and national team without really ever really developing knowledge about them.

We hear “fans” bash CONCACAF and the quality of the opposing national teams when they have not taken the time to watch Panama, Honduras or Jamaica play. Their judgments are not independent but reflect a peer pressure from “educated” fans of the game and certain elements of the press as well as American based bloggers who ignore the domestic game.

In writing this, I am not asking for others to join me in skipping the matches. I know many of our readers watch European football and find the touring of some of the world’s most recognizable clubs to be a nirvana. I am likely to watch the games involving Club America, currently one of the worst teams in Mexico’s first division so I can get a feel for whether the second most famous club in North America will recover this season (I’ll be covering Miami FC tomorrow night but will tape the Club America match).  But of course Club America will be without Guille Ochoa because he has actual serious internationals to contest in this next week. I am however asking for the “fans” who patron events like this to open their minds up to American soccer, and the CONCACAF region. Perhaps a good showing by the weak America side without Ochoa can help serve this purpose, but given CA’s recent form I’m not holding my breathe.

Scheduling appears to be an issue all over the board. I had no idea that the Superliga semifinals had occurred on Wednesday night. Part of this was simply logic: if SUM is gearing a tournament to appeal to Latin fans why would it be held at the same time as the Copa Lib. Finals?  Even more perplexing was the decision to play in Foxborough when the Copa Lib. Final included a Brazlian team.

Superliga in 2009 has been a washout. Conflicting with the Confederations Cup and then the Gold Cup, we saw Mexican team on holiday send watered down sides, and one team even neglect to send their first team coach. But Superliga serves a purpose of promoting the North American game, which European tours do not.

I’m not condemning anyone who may want to watch an allegedly better brand of football in person or on TV. (I watch plenty of European, Japanese and Latin football) But I am annoyed by those who claim to support the game and yet ignore the domestic product. I am also condemning those who claim to me “CONCACAF sucks,” without ever watching the opposition in this region or some of the other leagues.

Fans of European football who think MLS is beneath them while be pleasantly surprised at the competitiveness and quality of the Mexican League.  Club America, the lone CONCACAF representative in this phony event is not an accurate barometer of the strength of the FMF at this point in time: sending America to this tournament, is somewhat akin to having Newcastle contest these exhibitions. A team with a huge fane base but short on quality currently, and long on getting beat by smaller budget teams in league play.

I do not fault ESPN for showing these games. They have learned through the hard knocks of MLS’ absolutely pitiful TV ratings, as well as a decline in USMNT TV ratings over the past several years (until the Confederations Cup, of course) that European football sells in the US. But I do fault those “fans” that seem oblivious to the game in this country acting as if the next few weeks are the greatest in football for this country. Those “fans” are among what is holding the game back here in the United States.


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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.
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