Tuesday, January 29, 2008

More Games (and More and More)!

Yesterday Concacaf rolled out their newest of new continental tournaments: The Concacaf Champions League. 24 regional sides will battle for nine months starting this August for supremacy of our top-heavy region and a date at the 2009 World Club Cup in Japan. Is the new CCL an improvement over the Concacaf Champions' Cup? The CCC has been held as an eight-team Springtime tournament over the last few years. Let's compare the two on a few levels:

1) Club Involvement: In the current CCC format, Caribbean and Central American club sides plod through three months of playoffs from October through December to reach the "final eight," so switching to a 24-team format won't include that many more clubs that weren't already involved.

The 16-team preliminary round of the CCL will include clubs from MLS, Mexico and Panama (two each); three from the Caribbean, and one each from Costa Rica, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Canada, Beliza, and Nicaragua. The eight teams given byes to the group stage: two each from MLS and Mexico, one club from Costa Rica, Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador.

2) Timing: By scheduling the first rounds of the CCL from August-October, and the knockout rounds in February-April 2009, the Confed is making their club championship even less in tune with the MLS season. Not only will advancing MLS teams need to stay match-fit through the off-season, but the first stage will take place smack in the middle of the playoff stretch run and the MLS Cup playoffs.

3) Television: With four participating MLS squads, the CCL could generate some relatively strong ratings. Not sure how many would tune in to see Chivas USA take on FC Belize in the first round, however. The CCL should provide plenty of MLS-FMF matchups in the group stage, though, which should attract an audience based on the strong Superliga ratings of this past season.

4) MLS Fatigue: And what's to come of the SUM-created Superliga? Will too much USA-MEX club ball in the next twelve months squeeze the life out of all these competitions? What of the US Open Cup? Here's a brief calendar of the extra competitions MLS clubs will face this year...

-February, Pan-Pacific Championship: LA & Houston (2 games each)
-March-April, Concacaf Champions League: DC & Houston (up to 6 games each)
-July*, Superliga: DC, Houston, Chivas & New England* (up to 4 games)
-July-October*: US Open Cup, All MLS teams but TFC (up to 5 games)
-August-October, Concacaf Champions League: MLS teams TBD (bet on DC, HOU) (up to 8 games this year)

* Timing/teams to be finalized

So Houston, the league's two-time defending champion, could play as many as 24 non-league matches, in addition to the team's 30 MLS games, not including playoffs. I'm all for building a soccer culture in the US, but that's way, way too many for a 28-man roster to handle.

Now I've been a huge US Open Cup supporter in the past, but with faced with such a schedule, I'd give teams taking part in the Superliga or the CCL a pass out of the Hunt competition.

Such a move would further dilute the visibility and quality of the nation's longest-contested cup competition, but if we want our boys to have a realistic shot at reaching Japan to take on the worlds' best clubs, we need to give them every advantage.

Of course, we can't forget what's to come in 2008 on the National Team front:
-February (Olympic Qualifying)
-June (World Cup Qualifying, 1st round)
-August (Beijing Olympics)
-August-November (World Cup Qualifying, semis)

...and, of course the first 14-team MLS season in history.

Strap yourselves in for games, more games, and even more!

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