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Teaching fans to embrace multiple championships

Professional Soccer provides a uniqueness that no other professional team sport in the U.S. offers.  It has multiple championships.  Though, the Superliga does not seem to have the staying power, the CONCACAF Champions League and U.S. Open Cup appear to be gaining more strength each year.  Through the qualification processes, the USOC and CCL have become an integral part of the professional Soccer calendar. 

There may come a time when the USOC will not have the same relevance, if one of the leagues is clearly dominating or there is only one league.  As it is now, with at least one USL team in the semi-finals and other pro and amateur teams playing competitively, the Cup seems to have a niche.  Also, the CCL has earned respect by becoming the region’s most important club tournament. 

With MLS Cup included then, there are 3 main trophies to be won every calendar year.  This is the uniqueness and advantage Soccer has over the other mainstream sports, basketball, football, baseball and hockey. 

The schedule, including USOC and the CCL, seems to be working well for Soccer fans.  As the pro season builds, the USOC plays its championship, then with the season progressing, CCL begins and takes the fans through to the end of the season.  Some MLS teams are managing to give their fans the chance to see many additional games. 

D.C. United has the possibility of  giving their fans an extra 12 home games this season through its USOC and CCL play.  By giving fans more games, they are building more tradition.  Their dedication in trying to play the fullest schedule possible is teaching their fans to respect all 3 championships. 

Learning the principles and value of each championship has been lost on many Soccer fans and it is definitely not easily understood by U.S. sports fans.  Who’s responsibility is it to teach the sports fans and all the Soccer fans?  Is it just something that’s going to take a while?  It seems that it is a shared responsibility among the leagues and the media. 

As pro Soccer progresses and becomes more mainstream, the 3 championships need to get a better explanation so the U.S. sports fans can begin to pay more attention to all the storylines. 

The NY Red Bulls may be having an awful MLS season, but they are about to embark on a whole other journey with CCL.  At this point, their games in MLS need to be played as practice and preparation for the CCL.  This is the kind of intrigue that 3 different championships brings. 

As each championship awards an automatic berth or berths to another championship, the fan stays connected and interested to their team and its prospects that exist for their season this year and the following year. 

A 30 game schedule can become a 50-60 game schedule depending on how far a team can go in the 3 championships.  When and if that happens, a team that can go the distance in all 3 in the same calendar year, will have rightly gained the title as greatest club team ever from the U.S.  The only way for them to be supplanted with the label, ‘Greatest U.S. Club Team Ever’, would be if another team came along, wins all 3 AND the FIFA Club World Cup.

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  1. dm

    August 1, 2009 at 10:41 pm

    bob: i made the same argument. league is always more important, unless, as you pointed out, you have a lyon situation where one team has won it for literally years on end.

    as for the cap: mls will not drop the cap in the foreseeable future, in fact i would be shocked if it EVER drops it. unlike european sports, the idea of a salary cap is almost taken for granted here – most people who criticize baseball claim that the major problem with the professional structure is a lack of a salary cap.

  2. Bob C cool

    August 1, 2009 at 4:43 pm

    If i may talk about how the champions league has ruined European football…

    The problem with Europe is the bosman rule (free agency to you guys) and the fact that it came at the same time as the champions league became a real cash cow and was a shock UEFA and FIFA thought they could win in court so there was no contingency. Bascially before bosman clubs had no obligation to sell no matter how rich the club was, because the players had no contract leverage.

    The problem now is that you have to sell your best players or risk losing them for free. SO richer clubs dominate and they get rich by entering the unfair world that is the champions league. When porto won it they made less TV money than man utd who they had knocked out earlier in the comp but made enough money to carry on their portuguese domination. The money isn’t split equally and the big clubs basically dominate. Revenue sharing is the way to go, many people want champions league money won for the league not for the individual teams and now that Italy are going back to sharing their TV rights from next season hopefully we’ll get some sense. Hopefully MLS doesn’t drop it’s cap and everything and the CCL doesn’t get too big or you will face these problems.

    Oh i am an Arsenal supporter actually from London and i can assure you that the league is the most important thing to everyone in almost every country except if you’ve been dominating it for a few seasons. For example Lyon weren’t bothered last season when they didn’t win the league after 7 in a row. The champions league is a total bonus a one off, a once in a life time thing, you want to win it but… you know

  3. Tim

    August 1, 2009 at 2:19 pm

    The best way to explain it is treat it similar to conference titles in NCAA basketball, that’s the way I explain it to my friends. Regular season conference title=MLS SS, Conference Tourney=MLS Cup, National Title=CCL, and Season Tourneys=US Open Cup

  4. dm

    July 31, 2009 at 9:01 pm

    lisa: the reason most americans don’t know the vocabulary is because no american club has had success in those tournaments. if an american club won the CCL and espn and fox and si and everybody else could say “american club X to play barcelona/ac milan/chelsea/man united/whomever for right to be called best club in the world” then americans would care. and it would bring amazing publicity to the game and the league.

  5. Lee14

    July 31, 2009 at 7:41 pm

    A great dream of a lot of fans(European, Africa, Asia, here in the US, etc…) would be to win their own league first and foremost and to have an opportunity to play for regional glory and the chance to play Man U or Boca Juniors in a meaningful tournament if you win the CCL .

  6. Lisa

    July 31, 2009 at 7:07 pm

    Mexico Gold Cup,

    Don’t know you, but making wild assumptions will skew your results, for sure. Your accusations are unfounded. Try to stay in the moment.

    The Revs are part of my beat, and sometimes think I’m rather critical of them! 🙂 But I do get to see and hear the effects of schedule congestion first hand, and it’s counterproductive to the best interests of the league.

    I want MLS to work its way into the international game, but sorry, most American sports fans don’t have a clue what CONCACAF, SuperLiga, Open Cup are, and as the author sagely wrote, don’t care about tournaments because it’s not in the vocabulary.

    You need to look at the bigger picture – ticket sales, roster size, int’l players, salary cap, expansion, ethnic and gender demographics. This is not Europe and never will be, but the creative opportunities are tremendous. Rabid fans chewing each others’ heads off is just comical fodder for haters.

  7. Rex

    July 31, 2009 at 5:48 pm

    Another note. Move US Open Cup to the early spring or beginning of MLS season. MLS teams would benefit much more from a heavy load front schedule to work out the kinks. Similar to the interliga in mexico.

  8. Rex

    July 31, 2009 at 5:45 pm

    To win multiple championships would be great but it is impossible with the current roster limits. The Houston Dynamo gave it a good effort in 2008 but still fell short. Their results:
    -Old CONCACAF Cup – Semifinal – loss to Saprissa
    -Superliga – Finals – loss to NE Rev. in PKs
    -Open Cup – Third Round – loss to Charleston in Pks
    -Champions League – 2nd in Group Play qualified for Quarterfinals
    -Supporters Shield – 2nd place – Won West
    -MLS Cup – Quarterfinals – Loss To NYRB

    –Total games: 56 (not including reserve matches). Almost impossible with at twenty-something man roster.

    Simply put, too much. The Dynamo failed to win anything in 2008 despite coming close. The schedule just stretched them too thin.
    MLS needs fewer roster limitations, and to divide up the teams to various tournaments.

  9. Mexico, 2009 Gold Cup Champions

    July 31, 2009 at 5:12 pm

    eplfan is spot on in that Mexican football is #1 in the usa. You can watch a whole helping of games this weekend, starting tonight on Galavision. There will be games shown on Aztec America, ESPN in Spanish, Fox Sports in Spanish, Telemundo , Univision and Telefutura. What a smorgasbord of football action to choose from.

    Hey Lisa, you posted the same nonsense on the 24th Minute. Face it, the Revolution’s 2008 SL title means NOTHING. Zilch. Nada. You’re trying to make us care about the SL so that your team can be recognized for its “title”. Sorry, no chance. If your “revs” want respect, then defeat Joe Public first. If not, then too bad. The CCL is where it’s at.

  10. dm

    July 31, 2009 at 4:56 pm

    clams: you are mistaking winning your league with european qualification.
    as an arsenal fan i can attest to this first hand – last season, for example, when the league started, we all wanted to win it. that was our primary objective. when it became clear that wasn’t going to happen, our focus shifted to “qualifying for the champions’ league,” which is essentially a byword for having the best season we could have and finish in the top 4 spots. the fact that our season went south in a hurry doesn’t mean we didn’t want to/think we could win the league after we beat man. united at home in november.

    because of the salary cap, we will never have a european/MLB have-and-have-nots disparity. the league is always going to be an attainable goal for every team at the beginning of the season.

    but as a rbny fan, it sure is nice to know that even though our season has been memorably horrible, we at least still have something to play for thanks to the CCL.

  11. soccer goals

    July 31, 2009 at 3:23 pm

    I hope that we fare better this year in the CL.

  12. Joey Clams

    July 31, 2009 at 3:09 pm

    Just being in the CL, though, is more important to some teams than winning their leagues.

  13. adambchildress

    July 31, 2009 at 1:03 pm

    I believe one thing thats overlooked is that MLS has a playoff system. England for example does not, so your crowned league champion by being the best but the various tournements provide the exciting knockout round excitment. With MLS having playoffs there is no need for a couple knockout tournements to generate the same type of excitment because they get it with the MLS Playoffs. I would prefer the MLS to adopt the euro system so that there would be a need for the tournements.

  14. dm

    July 31, 2009 at 12:23 pm


    i think you’re estimation of the importance of the domestic league is incorrect – managers such as wenger and ferguson have stated on numerous occasions that the european cup is a crapshoot, and that the competition that really matters is the league.

    for proof of this, look at liverpool – if winning the european cup were the most important thing, they would be happy right now, yet they haven’t won the league in 19 years and it eats away at them. the european cup is great, and certainly nothing to scoff at, but the league is what matters.

    likewise – madrid, after not winning anything for several years, was absolutely determined to win the league title in 2006/07. yes, they would have liked to have gotten further in the european cup, but winning the legaue title back from barça was the most important aim of the season.

    i never said an MLS squad had to WIN the competition, i just said that MLS teams need to take the competition seriously, the way mexican and costarican sides do.

    do you really believe that, if a team qualifies for the CCL, they should not play in it? that’s ridiculous. the only way to improve the level of this league is by facing different competition and being forced out of our comfort zone.

    if a team qualifies for the CCL they should compete in it, just as they should compete in MLS and the USOC. taking the top teams out of the USOC would permanently ruin the oldest soccer competition in this country. we saw the damage done to the FA cup when manchester united didn’t compete in it in 2000. the USOC matters, and it should, because it is the closest the united states has to any sort of soccer tradition. taking the best MLS sides out of it would make it completely pointless.

  15. Joey Clams

    July 31, 2009 at 11:52 am

    I do enjoy international competition. But one’s own league must always be the priority. Do not be surprised if you see Europe aping us. South America? Come on. They’re trophy and ritual-obsessed and afraid of any sort of time away from the game – the continent’s intellectuals, de facto secular priests, bemoan the populace’s inability to entertain itself and step away from noise – and will thus only add and expand competitions.

  16. Lisa

    July 31, 2009 at 11:07 am

    Joey Clams,

    Agree with you on many counts, particularly on intramural tournaments. Like the author says, the American public does not understand tournaments and moreover, they do not buy tickets.

    Each MLS team should compete in one other tournament besides MLS Cup and they all can’t compete in CCL. They top tier could compete in CCL, the second tier in SuperLiga, and the third (this year RSL, Quakes, FCD, and NYRB) compete for the Open Cup. A lower league could then win the Open Cup (with this line-up it’s entirely possible) and that makes the historical but very contrived US tournament meaningful.

  17. Adam Edg

    July 31, 2009 at 11:00 am

    Joey, you hit it on the head. Planning to focus on the international comeptitions rather than league games leads to an overload of foreign & high paid players. Wasn’t the brass in England lamenting the fact that their best clubs rely too heavily on foreign talent not long ago? I remember something being said along the lines of “What’s the point of having the best league in the world if it doesn’t help the national team develop?”
    I think that is something the USSF & MLS have managed to keep in mind. However, with the continual expansion, we are going to NEED to bring in more foreign talent. Even more importantly though, we will need to retain our own. Keeping the league in parity is a good thing in terms of developing talent. It may not be the best way to win CCL or other internationals, but if we stick to the game plan (and increase the salary cap) it will be eventually. The last thing we need is for the league to go NASL in hopes of winning international gold on the club level…

  18. Jason Gatties

    July 31, 2009 at 10:47 am

    After a few articles on this blog that just flat out failed in my opinion, glad to see one well written that makes sense. Great job Mitch.

  19. Joey Clams

    July 31, 2009 at 10:37 am


    Perhaps. But one club’s success in an international competition is not necessarily an indicator of a league’s strength. MLS, wisely or unwisely, has preferred parity and fiscal discipline to allowing individual clubs to fortify rosters in search of international prestige. There is some wisdom to that. In Europe, superclubs now regard their own domestic leagues as formalities and sometimes even annoyances yet only success in those domestic leagues can justify their participation in international tournaments. They become relatively wealthy through international competition and reinvest the money in personnel to remain competitive in those competitions and they end up out of reach of those left behind. Those “important” contintental cups create and perpetuate a hierarchy and “domestic leagues” become after thoughts. The predictability becomes a turn-off and fans turn away. In the meantime, the big clubs are stuck paying salaries and spending so that they can earn. We don’t need that here.

  20. dm

    July 31, 2009 at 10:12 am

    i love that the CCL is an important competition, now. i honestly hope that the rise in importance of the CCL means that superliga will disappear, but i doubt it… superliga is indeed pointless.

    for the MLS to get respect, both internationally and from people like me who grew up detesting MLS because of it’s mickey-mouse-league aspects, it needs to take the CCL seriously. FSC shows all CCL games with MLS teams involved, so you can’t blame FSC. MLS teams obviously don’t put the same importance on being continental champion as do the mexican and costarican clubs.

    part of the reason i watch MLS now is because the CCL – finally the league is getting out of its own bubble and interacting with the rest of the continent.

  21. Joey Clams

    July 31, 2009 at 10:05 am

    I will add that for that very reason the intramural trophies over which geographic rivals supposedly compete are also a waste. For how many trophies is a team meant to simultaneously compete? If I were the captain of an MLS team and some clown tried to hand me the Cascadia Cup or Rocky Mountain Shield or Great Lakes Bowl, I’d say thanks but no thanks, we’re more concerned with making the playoffs and winning it all.

    The extremes of multi-competitions can be amusing, though. Once Vasco and Botafogo lined for a match at Maracanã. The players, however, had no idea to which competition the game pertained. Was it Taça Guanabara? Rio League? Rio Cup? Brazilian Championship? Brazilian Cup? They had no idea. Once, in fact, a game ended and two trophies appeared. Even more hilarious, is that each team found justification for claiming one. A fight broke out and then, finally, the crowd watched each team do a victory lap.

  22. Joey Clams

    July 31, 2009 at 9:55 am

    Part of the problem is that we assume that fans SHOULD care before the competitions themselves have become compelling to them. Another problem – one greater than supposed American apathy – is, as some have suggested, that there are too many competitions in soccer. They never give it a break. Soccer is like the Latin in-laws who constantly host parties for birthdays. You end up going to so many parties – because you “should” or “have to” – that after a while they become meaningless. I used to attend a lot of matches. Now I think twice before reaching for the remote when there’s a “big” match on. There’s too much and I don’t need someone telling me what I “should” care about.

  23. todd

    July 31, 2009 at 9:49 am

    with the destruction of the reserves side MLS showed how little it cared about CCL or USOC. But yea… who needs reserve sides? its not like Ianni, Cameron, or Holden are doing well after a couple years ‘wallowing’ there.

  24. Berlin

    July 31, 2009 at 9:26 am

    While its not an official match, MLS does seem to make an effort to schedule the regular season and post season champs against each other in the first game. This year Houston (SS runner-up) played the Crew in the first match and last year Houston played at New England in their first match. I’m a Dynamo season ticket holder and make almost every game, but I must admit, there have been a couple of seasons when Superliga, CCL/CCC and USOC going on when I didn’t make it. 20/30 home games I can do, 40/50 is pushing it.

  25. gmonsoon43

    July 31, 2009 at 8:50 am

    Adam Edg, I totally agree. The supporters shield is not given very much thought. I find this interesting beacuase the SS winner is really the best team in MLS(the old saying “the table doesn’t lie”), not neccesarily the MLS Cup winner. Look at NYRB for example, its not neccesarily the best team that gets to the cup just the one that plays a few matches well and probably has a little luck.

  26. Lisa

    July 31, 2009 at 8:40 am

    1. The schedule is too crowded, the rosters too short to fully commit to all “three” tournaments – counterproductive to the real goal of winning MLS Cup.

    2. There four tournaments, SuperLiga being the fourth, and it’s naive to write off this tournament with our quality (remember 5-0?) border rival. SuperLiga attendance is a real issue, but renaming the tournament “Mexican-US Championship” informs the general public what it is, and the public does associate Mexico with competitive soccer. And with better attendance, teams like Club America and Guadalajara would likely participate.

    3. You are right, the set-up of American sports precludes Americans from appreciating tournaments, which are largely international in nature. Increasing mention of international players, competitions in all MLS broadcasts will help with public understanding. Eliminating one of the international tournaments works against this understanding.

  27. eplnfl

    July 31, 2009 at 8:07 am

    The mix of various competitions for MLS clubs and US soccer in general has` become a “job” for even the most devoted fan of the domestic game. All that so to speak when the European season is almost here and the average fan will have his favorite team or league across the pond to follow. Not to mention we still have a big name friendly or two to keep track of. Great for the fan to have this massive menu of games to view, oh, I forgot the staple of American TV( Spanish language), the Mexican League has started up.

    Is it all too much. Yes. I hate to say that but with the level of depth of talent in the domestic game the first consideration is that teams that may have multiple commitments can not put out a quality product. Second the fans are on the breaking point. Both from an emotional and financial commitment how can one do it. In these tough economic times how many people can afford to take it all in at the park and then attend the international friendly or the qualification game that may show up in town.
    I have seen the USMNT twice this Summer of Soccer and it’s small investment to commitment to go to the games. Parking at Soldier Field for the Gold Cup was $40.00! We have reached the point of supporter fatigue.

    However, for the good of the cause all of this is necessary. Soccer had to make it’s mark. What the final form will be is uncertain. MLS is growing we know that. The Concacaf Champions Leagues seems to have some legs to it. Does anyone care that much about the USOC? It seems somewhat weak to me without a major TV backer. I have become convinced and hope to state a large case for much of the future of US Soccer expansion lies with a connection with Mexican soccer. Look, at the numbers for the Gold Cup Final that Kartik reported and the well known great ratings for the Mexican League on US Spanish Language TV. The future vision of American soccer lies south of the border and not across the ocean.

    As a fan of my local MLS side, the Fire, I am just glad this weekend that I can go to Toyota Park and just enjoy what the Fire are doing and not worry about if Bob Bradley has a C or B team on the field on Sunday.

  28. Adam Edg

    July 31, 2009 at 7:43 am

    What about the Supporters’ Shield? Surely it deserves inclusion in this list as a fourth major championship. Granted it is not won in a single title match like the other three, but it does lead to inclusion in the tournaments for each of them.
    I personally think the SS should have more value than the MLS Cup. With the current playoff system, how about a Community Shield-type game between the SS and MLS Cup winner to kick off the season? IF the winner is the same team, then use the SS runner-up as the stand-in. The SS is overlooked far too often and needs to be made more important.

  29. adambchildress

    July 31, 2009 at 7:15 am

    The largest problem is access. MLS does not promote the Chapions League or Open Cup hardly at all. Thats where I think FSC falls on its face. FSC should be covering these tournements in depth like the did for the F.A. Cup and other European competitions, and further more when they are showing only reruns during europes time off why are they not showing 3 or more mls games a week? If it has to do with the cost of buying rights Garber needs to revisit that because inorder to grow we need more exxposure.

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