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The inaugural CONCACAF Champions League is now over after a short delay, due to swine flu. Atlante are the first evcer CCL Champions, and will be the region’s representative at this year’s FIFA Club World Cup. This was the club’s second continental title(first in Cancun), after winning the Champions Cup in 1983.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the event. Sure, it doesn’t come close to UEFA or CONMEBOL in the level of play or grandeur. However, it’s OUR region’s championship. It’s only gonna mean something if people care about it. I’ve heard that certain teams, especially Mexican and MLS teams didn’t take it seriously.

On the Mexican perspective, perhaps there was disinterest because of the level of competition. I don’t know if this is the case. Certainly the FMF as a whole is the best league in CONCACAF. While the Costa Rican league as a whole doesn’t match up with FMF, their top teams have the ability to compete with any Mexican club; as they have proven in past Champions Cups. Even if some FMF teams weren’t starting all their first squad, they still had 3 of 4 teams make the semifinals. Only Pumas didn’t make this round, and they were eliminated by fellow FMF club Cruz Azul, in the quarterfinals. Also, 3 of 4 were atop the tables in group play. Only Cruz Azul was bested there, by Honduran power Marathon. While, this isn’t a true barometer of the club’s ambition in this competition, it doesn’t exactly shout disinterest.

As for the MLS perspective, it was very disappointing. Sure, the same old script played out between Mexican and US based clubs. But even more disturbing was the way NE Revolution and Chivas USA were eliminated in the preliminary round. Joe Public of Trinidad absolutely hammered New England, winning 6 – 1 on aggregate, including a disgraceful 4 – 0 drubbing in New England. And Chivas USA didn’t put up much of a fight against FC Tauro of Panama (1-3 agg). Injuries did play a significant role, especially for DC United. Though consistently fielding what amounted to reserve teams and being in the so called group of death; only gaining 1 point in group play is an extreme letdown.

If anything, the onus is on MLS to field better squads and achieve more satisfying results. Certainly having an MLS team win the regional championship for the first time since 1998, would make it more interesting here in the States. And might make the title more meaningful to FMF clubs.

The new born tournament wasn’t without excitement and some great cindarella stories. Marathon went through the preliminary round, won their group and played in the quarterfinals. Both qualified USL – 1 teams made it to the last eight. It would have been two if not for yet another tragic last minute defeat to a Mexican club, as Impact imploded against Santos Laguna. Though the match displayed some sloppy defense, it was genuinely exciting.

And of course, Puerto Rico Islanders were the story of the tournament. They qualified by defeating San Juan Jabloteh of T & T,finishing 3rd in the CFU Club Championship. They went on to defeat Costa Rican legend CD Alajuelense. Then advanced out of their group, including a 3 – 1 victory over Santos Laguna at home. Colin Clark’s squad took care of Marathon in the quarterfinals and came oh so close to advancing to the finals. They lost in the semis to Cruz Azul. The match went to extra time. Both teams struck home in the added periods. Though Puerto Rico had scored more away goals; in the CCL, they don’t matter after regulation. With this rule, it was decided on Penalties, which Cruz Azul won 4 – 2.

Considering it was a first effort in the expanded preliminary and group stage format, it seemed a good start. While there were matches that were so lopsided as to be unwatchable, there were also several entertaining gems. At times, many stadiums seemed virtually empty, but these were on weekdays. Qualification is already underway for the second CCL.

2009/2010 CCL Qualified Teams

US: Columbus Crew, Houston Dynamo, DC United NY Red Bulls

Mexico: Toluca, Cruz Azul (2 spots open)

Canada: (1 spot open)

Hounduras: Marthon, Real Espana, Olimpia

Costa Rica: Deportivo Saprissa, (1 spot open)

El Salvador: Isidro Metapan, (1 spot open)

Guatemala: Comunicaiones, (1 spot open)

Panama: Arabe Unido, (1 spot open)

Nicaragua: (1 spot open)

CFU: W Connection (T&T), Puerto Rico Islanders (PR – USL1), San Juan Jabloteh (T&T)

So we already know 16 out of the 24 participating clubs. With the Central American seasons coming to a close, the rest of the field should fill out shortly. Many of the teams will be entering for the second year in a row, but there are several new faces.  Belize has been taken off the docket for this competition, because of poor stadium conditions.  For now, this spot has been awarded to Honduras, giving them 3 teams.

The Nutrilite Canadian Championship is already underway, with Toronto FC posting a pair of 1 – 0 victories over their USL1 counterparts. The CFU Championship just finished, with W Connection defeating Puerto Rico in the finals, both advancing. San Juan Jabloteh dispatched Haitian side Tempete FC, to claim the 3rd and final Caribbean spot.

There has been some talk about reallocating an MLS spot.  I personally don’t see this as necessary.  If you look at the quarterfinals, there was 4 Mexican teams, 1 MLS team, 2 USL1 teams and a Honduran club.   Honduras has already been taken care of.  Mexico has 4 spots and the US based leagues had 3.  The only scenario that seems to make sense, would be either granting the FMF one MLS slot, or having a playoff between these leagues for the final position. Personally, I think 4 is enough for FMF, after all this is a CONCACAF competition.  With 3 semifinalits, any more would make it seem like a Mexican tournament.

The preliminary round is set to begin in late July, with the group stage kicking off towards the end of August. Hopefully the CCL will only continue to grow and be sought after passionately by all CONCACAF teams. Let’s hope for a little more diversity in the final four teams. UEFA constantly has an influx of English teams at the end, it’s appearing like CONCACAF may be no different with Mexican squads.

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  1. Michael Rennie

    March 24, 2010 at 8:04 pm

    MLS teams will never take this sport seriously as the rest of the world, because they have nothing to fear until relegation is instituted, even the USL has two or more division. The MLS and USL must join forces and create a relegation system. The U S has the population to build the best league in thw world.

  2. Maurice O'Donnell

    June 3, 2009 at 7:24 am

    Hi guys, I loved reading your comments! As assistant coach to Joe Public in this competition, I wouldn’t quite agree that teams didn’t take it seriously, or at least most of them! When we played New England in Trinidad, I felt it was complacency ontheir part coming to play us, and that they didn’t show us respect, and with us winning 2-1 on the night, I also think that this lack of respect deepened, as they thought with the return leg in Boston, they would just have to turn up to win and go through! Well, we were also aware of hoiw they were thinking, and we used that to our best advantage, and the result said it all. Over the two games, we deserved our win. However, there is no doubt that in the group stages, we were punching well above our weight, but we’ll never forget the 1-0 win we had in Mexico, against the eventual winners, Atalante. I hope you all enjoy this seasons competition, and I wish Atalante the best of luck in the World Club Cup.

  3. Chest Rockwell

    May 23, 2009 at 11:04 pm

    P.S. If it’s not obvious, I find this competition very fascinating. Sure the level of play is inconsistent, and the refereeing was appalling last time around, but the games are almost always packed with drama (late goals, upsets, red cards, etc). And really, if fans of MLS and other CONCACAF leagues can’t show interest in this tournament, then soccer in CONCACAF will never get any closer to what it is in Europe and South America. I’m not saying this tournament will overtake the Champions League or Copa Libertadores, but it can progress with support and interest.

  4. Chest Rockwell

    May 23, 2009 at 11:02 pm

    I think we’ll see a different (and better) showing from MLS clubs this time around. Houston, who did the best out of the MLS clubs, is in the group stage again, and have the depth to balance CCL and MLS play. They also have a physical, direct approach that throws off Mexican and Central American teams (evidence: Puerto Rico and Montreal, both playing defensive, ultra-direct, and aggressive, massively overachieved). I wonder about Columbus; with their early struggles and Schelotto’s age, I wonder if they won’t rest him in some of these games. Odds are they’ll still be trying to play catch-up in the MLS standings, so you have to wonder where their priorities will lie.

    DC United looks likely to drastically improve their showing. They have more depth, are more secure defensively than they were last summer/fall, and seem fitter. NY, on the other hand, looks likely to disappoint. There just aren’t enough smart players on the Red Bulls roster, and Osorio will probably tinker his way into defeat. They will need a great draw to get through (like, say, Nicaragua’s Real Esteli or perhaps a Panamanian or Trinidadian side). TFC is also in a good spot to get through, and they look to me more likely than NY to get to the group stage.

    At worst, I think MLS clubs will be 1/4 of the group stage teams, and out of them I see Houston and DC getting through. Of course, that’s assuming the draw isn’t as brutal to them as it was to DC last year. TFC could also get through. Columbus might be a stretch barring major improvement, and NY seems like a lost cause at this point.

  5. Jonathan

    May 22, 2009 at 2:32 pm

    Undrafted to show up and argue about the meaningless CCF in 10,9,8,7,6….

    I wonder if the MLS Commissioner would make further public statements about international club tourney like last summer. It would be interesting to see if MLS clubs have learned from the first one.

  6. Chris B

    May 20, 2009 at 7:45 pm

    MLS teams SHOULD and will do better because unlike the REVS who you always point out won’t be already exhausted from superliga and the MLS season and won’t be (fingers crossed) fielding injury depleted teams like the REVS. Oh yeah, did you see those goals that Joe Public kid scored? He will never score such perfect goals again!

  7. The Footballer

    May 20, 2009 at 6:21 pm

    It’s absolutely idiotic for teams to not take this seriously. That’s be like, in baseball, winning your division but then not taking the playoffs seriously. How retarded is that. Teams should always aim to win the world championship. That can only be achieved by winning the CCL first.

    Also, if you take away a USA spot, you don’t have to reallocate it. Just have 23 teams instead of 24. The highest seeded preliminary team would then go directly to the group stage. That’s it.

  8. Berlin

    May 20, 2009 at 12:12 pm

    I love this tournament and hope to see it continue to grow. With the FMF out of CONMEBOL this is a great opportunity for them to focus on the competition and start applying pressure to MLS to field first team squads.

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