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Open Letter to CONCACAF: Why the CONCACAF Champions League is a Joke

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.

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  1. R.O

    October 26, 2013 at 1:30 am

    Interesting article. I will say that MLS fields (grass) are sub par when compared to Bundesliga, EPL, France and other Top Euro leagues. Heck, I’ve seen NFL fields look 100% better than some of the MLS pitches. I saw a LA Galaxy games in LA where the field looked neglected. A few hours before I watched on TV a ManU games and the field looked immaculate. MLS isn’t all that it’s made up to been.

    As for US fans, go to an Raiders game or even LA Dodger game vs some teams – violence exists too.

  2. Michael

    October 25, 2013 at 6:57 pm

    Item #3 demonstrates that the author has not been watching the CCL very long (the 8-group format is only 2 years old – the previous “Europe-lite” format with play-ins was definitely not “making it more interesting.”

    Basically, its the kind of thing I’m used to hearing from folks who have just started watching CCL (Egad! Caribbean refs aren’t the best! Zoiks! Some clubs waste time when ahead!).

    While “CONCACAFing” is a thing (see Honduras’ run in the 2012 Olympics) the Aribe/Houston match was unusual in its combination of on-field antics and notorious ref, and shouldn’t be used as anything but an anomaly. If the Dynamo were better, they would have scored, but they started subs – maybe THAT is the issue.

  3. Dean Stell

    October 25, 2013 at 5:53 pm

    I agree about some of what you’re saying…..There’s a lot of yanking around every year just so that the US and Mexican clubs can reach the knockout round and then the Mexican clubs can eventually prevail. There’s just not enough money behind it to really make it that interesting for teams.

    The MLS clubs don’t prioritize it over the league play and given salary cap restrictions, MLS clubs usually aren’t deep enough to compete in both. The Mexican clubs will always prioritize the Copa Lib over the CCL. So, it’s just a B-list tournament.

    I kinda like seeing some of the little teams, so I don’t mind their fields unless they are causing injuries (which doesn’t seem to be the case). And the rowdy fans are all that really make it interesting. I mean, if the fields were pristine and the fans weren’t throwing piss and beer bottles, the US and Mexican teams would just SQUASH the Central American clubs, and then it wouldn’t be any fun.

    The big area where I agree with you is the refs. They suck. Not sure how to improve that though. Even great leagues like the EPL sometimes struggle to find enough great refs.

    I’m not sure any of this will ever get fixed though. CONCACAF is really run by those little teams because they can outvote the US and Mexico. So, they want crappy fields, “enthusiastic” fans and possibly biased refs…’s the only way their clubs will be competitive.

  4. Brad

    October 25, 2013 at 5:43 pm

    One could probably replace Concacaf with UEFA in some of these arguments.

    Houston and LA had to travel yet Manchester City (also played on poor field) and Chelsea both played away in the UEFA Champions league and have a big match vs each other Sunday.

    Referees are referees.

    I like the 3 team group format, Concacaf clubs just don’t have the cash.

    UEFA committee members should resign too.

  5. Canfan

    October 25, 2013 at 5:33 pm

    I thought this was supposed to be a complaint about the CONCACAF CL, most of your issues seem to be with the WCQ and not the actual CL itself. You have to distinguish between the two because they are very different tournaments.

    1) Fields – home field advantage. Deal with it. Look what Man City had to play on in Moscow.

    2) This is NT stuff, not the same as club (and Europe has plenty o bad fans too, so drop that).

    3) Format sucks, agreed. But the tale you spin about the “big teams” not having to play midweek games against far away teams that no one has heard of before is wrong. With some of the Russian teams the travel can be just as bad. Just look at Tottenham who had to play Anzhi. But yes, the winter break is silly.

    4) Well, yeah. But that’s hardly new in CONCACAF, look how bad the MLS refs are.

  6. Total Relegation

    October 25, 2013 at 5:00 pm

    1.)Fields are what you get. That is why it’s called home field advantage. 2.) U.S. fans aren’t angels and there have been a number of reported conflicts before and after games. 3.)I agree the format sucks. 4.) Agree

  7. andrew beck

    October 25, 2013 at 4:34 pm

    I don’t believe FIFA mandates natural grass. As long as it’s a FIFA rated artificial surface it’s fine. There have been UEFA champions league games on turf, CCL games on turf (in Seattle), and WCQ games on turf (Saprissa Stadium in Costa Rica).

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