Wednesday, September 3, 2008
Concachampions: straight apathy or are we that bad?
Concachampions, i.e. the newly formed "champions league" of the North, Central America and Caribbean Federation (CONCACAF) has started with a fizzle when it comes to MLS. Apathy? Yes, perhaps. The Concachampions (as the media likes to call it) happens to lie at a crossroads of final games in the regular season for MLS (and yes, no actual "league" like in European soccer) and the play-offs. Teams like New England (2nd in the east and arguably one the best teams in MLS) and Chivas are preparing for the gruellengly annoying post-season. The Goats are actually out of play-off contention so you'd hope they would at least try against a limited Panamanian side. So there's the scores: Joe Public 4 - NE 0. Think SuperBowl and the Miami of last season against the unstoppable Patriots (prior to the superbowl). Then think Miami beating New England 60-0. Weird, heh? That's right. That's how it went down tonight. NE players didn't take it seriously and lacked any cleanliness in final touch, Matt Reis looked like he was playing with kids in his backyard and the defense was more interested in the upcoming football (gridiron) season than in this game.
Chivas was a bit different. Preki played a sneaky game with lots of attacking options. So what happened there? Well, theirs is a different tale. . . Kljestan missed a penalty early in the game (yes, the same hero of the Olympics), the Tauro (Panama) goalkeeper wasn't ejected, and Jonathan Bornstein was red carded. And where some teams would have come back from such adversities to win a match against a "group of friends," as Andres Cantor likes to call them, from Panama, the USA Goats faltered and faded and remembered that there is much more to play for inside MLS.
What's wrong with this picture? Well, this tournament was suppose to showcase the American league's dominance (if at least a 2nd to Mexico) in the region. We are left with DC and Houston. Those are more dominant sides that know how to play abroad and get the results needed. The group stage will be played in the midst of end-of-season games and play-offs and we're left wanting more answers from our MLS officials. I agree with claims that the league's teams are just not deep enough and that the way the pay goes these days there's not much room for improvement. I'll give them that much. But they should also remember that winning this tourney gives you the opportunity to play competitively against the best in the region and that the end result of winning the title lets you play against the best in the world in the World Club Tournament.
MLS must not look inwards. Some attention should be payed to the scheduling of these Concachampions games but the rest is up to the teams and to the fans. Let's move on from the baby days of a wannabe league that everyone scoffs at. We have real stars these days and export real stars worth $10 million. Club football doesn't end with MLS but instead becomes more with international tournaments. WHy is it so nice then when Barcelona plays Manchester United? It is my hope that we can address some of these issues soon or stars that were toying with the idea of MLS play may think twice and choose to play in the Emirates, Bahrein, Saudi Arabia or Quatar*.
* Those are all fine leagues with fine pay by the way, just not anywhere close to the USA soccer fans.