Last night, I watched Arabe Unido (from Panama) beat Houston Dynamo 1-0 in the CONCACAF Champions League. Aside from the vile filth that was supposedly futbol, I could not help but notice a few reasons why CONCACAF will never have a successful Champions League like that of UEFA. As such, I felt the need to share the reasons in hopes that CONCACAF will one day realize it can no longer be run by a group of committee members who are out of touch with reality.
Here are a few things that need changed immediately if CONCACAF ever wishes to be seen as a more respectable region around the globe:
1) Fields – It goes without saying that the field surfaces of a majority of CONCACAF nations and clubs would be seen as poor conditions for a hobo. To think, Costa Rica complained about playing in the snow in Denver, when every time they play at their own national stadium they probably wear spikes designed for ice wall climbing just to prevent breaking ankles. This is one of the biggest reasons why Jürgen Klinsmann was unable to comprehend how superior teams in the region, such as the United States, struggled in Central America. FIFA has some standards about the surface, but only in that it must be some form of natural grass. This is one of the reasons Seattle was almost not given a World Cup Qualifier (the Sounders and Seahawks play on an artificial surface). So, CONCACAF, try establishing a higher standard and force some of these teams to put in a surface sufficient for quality to shine.
2) Fans – As an American, I am a bit of an amateur when it comes to hooliganism. However, having been to a number of European matches, I am well aware that even those famous for their destruction will concede that it should never interfere with the game itself. As Costa Rica visited Mexico (a supposedly more civilized country in CONCACAF), thanks to ESPN the United States was able to hate their neighbors to the South even more. Fans hitting Costa Rican players with beer bottles during the game is the behavior of troglodytes (that means cavemen for those CONCACAF committee members who were able to read this far). In the United States, there are cameras on the stands and security everywhere waiting to escort morons out of the stadium and into the back seat of a police vehicle when such behavior is even attempted. Do not get me wrong, I am not saying all fans in CONCACAF and Central America are horrible. Having a good fan base is necessary for teams to have an advantage at home. However, belligerent fanaticism is something that must stop to improve the perception of the region.
3) Tournament Format – This is directed to the Champions League itself. In CONCACAF, there is some odd format that puts teams into a three team round robin with only one advancing into a home-and-away knockout phase quarter final. With only 24 teams qualifying for the tournament to start, why not make it more interesting by forcing the smaller regions to have qualifying rounds prior to a group phase? This is the way it is done in UEFA. It prevents the bigger teams from having to go play in Azerbaijan against some team that no one has ever heard of and be forced into a midweek match that only hurts the bigger clubs’ chances in the league. In the case of tonight, Houston and LA Galaxy played important matches for CONCACAF Champions League only days before the final game of the MLS Regular Season. Houston is still in the MLS Playoff race, but was forced to travel to Panama and back, leading up to their crucial match with DC United. Finally, why does CONCACAF schedule their Champions League alongside the international schedule when half of the countries in CONCACAF have their seasons end in November? The CONCACAF Champions League group phase ends this week and then the quarter finals are not until mid-March. That’s an entirely new season with different players for MLS squads. That defeats the purpose of a Champions League – where the team that actually won the title competes, and not a team a year and a half later.
4) Referees – As a referee myself, I am sorry to have to say that CONCACAF has some of the worst referees on the planet. Just last night, Courtney Campbell (Jamaica) was unable to keep control of Arabe Unido’s players (falling on the ground and rolling around like they had just been shot), training staff (who came onto the field numerous times without being summoned by Campbell) and even the ball boys (throwing balls on the field randomly). I witnessed one sequence that took 45 seconds to have a simple throw-in taken because ball boys kept throwing balls onto the field when the Arabe Unido player had one in his hand.
Additionally, Costa Rica’s Joel Campbell managed to fool an entire officiating crew into believing Matt Besler knocked him out. What is sad is that Campbell was sanctioned by FIFA for the dive, but CONCACAF did nothing to the officiating crew for believing it. Understandably, there is not instant replay to help, but the linesman covering behind the play is only supposed to flag something if he or she is certain to have seen it. In the case of CONCACAF, the referees receive an F across the board, and bad referees who cannot control unsportsmanlike tactics (i.e. diving, simulating injuries, keeping control of who is permitted on the field, etc.) are only going to keep fans away from the competition.
So, in closing, I feel the need to give CONCACAF committee members one piece of advice – either learn how to take control of your growing list of problems or just resign so someone who will can take office. Needless to say, I will not pay much attention to the CONCACAF Champions League anymore. Instead, I would rather watch teams in Europe that I have no personal attachment to, but at least the soccer is quality.