The recently instituted CONCACAF Champions League is a competition facing some teething troubles. Mexican dominance of the tournament has interest levels plummet, and the debate about how to fix that is on. Thomas Harrison has his say.
With the CONCACAF Champions League (CCL) group stage coming to an end last week, it’s a good time to address whether or not the North American governing body should change the schedule of their premier club competition, something which has been discussed for a while now. The suggestion is to alter the competition to run spring to autumn, rather than autumn to spring.
The argument for
Since the tournament was rebranded in 2008, there have been seven winners of the competition. All of which are Mexican. Furthermore, five of the seven runners up come from Liga MX, with Real Salt Lake and Montréal Impact the only non-Mexican sides to make the final. The dominance of Mexican sides in the CCL makes the competition somewhat uninteresting at times, whilst some Mexican fans belittle the importance of the CCL.
In order to maximise the tournaments potential, CONCACAF needs more competition, and sides from MLS have the best chance of challenging Liga MX teams. There are many reasons why MLS teams have struggled in the CCL previously, with the salary cap perhaps the most significant factor.
Another reason that’s often talked about as being behind MLS team’s failings in the CCL is due to the scheduling of the competition. With MLS running from spring to autumn, the CCL knockout rounds take place whilst the season in the USA and Canada is just kicking off, meaning that MLS teams are not as prepared as their Liga MX counterparts that are mid-way through their season. Therefore, a change to the competition calendar should help increase competition between MLS and Liga MX sides, making the tournament more interesting to follow. Although it’s debateable how much difference this change would make.
The other argument for is that the victors of the competition would be sent off the Club World Cup in top form, fresh off the back of victory in North America. This could improve performances of CONCACAF teams in the Club World Cup, which have been somewhat disappointing in the past, with no team ever making it past the semi-final stage.
The argument against
Teams from eleven different leagues qualified for this seasons CCL, ten of those leagues run autumn to spring, with MLS the only spring-autumn league. Whilst only sides from Costa Rica have the potential to go far in the competition, apart from those in Liga MX and MLS, the other teams from leagues across Central America and the Caribbean have to be considered an important part of the CCL. With almost all of the continent playing from autumn to spring, it would seem only right, and democratic, for the CCL to mirror this schedule.
It could also be argued that the CCL doesn’t need fixing or changing, it just needs time. Attendances for the competition are quite low, but are growing, as is competition for Liga MX teams. For example, Costa Rican side Alajuelense made the semi-finals in both the 13-14 and 14-15 competition, whilst it took a superb second half performance in the second leg of last season’s final for Club América to defeat Montréal Impact. Whilst football develops in the US and Canada, as well as in the Central American countries, competition for Liga MX teams should increase.
In addition, this year’s competition is set to be the most interesting yet, with Liga MX and MLS sides facing off in all four quarter-finals. Considering the level of rivalry between Mexico and the USA, these matches should spark plenty of interest from within North America.
Changing the CCL calendar may create a more competitive, more unpredictable competition, but considering that the majority of leagues in the CONCACAF zone play from autumn to spring, the change shouldn’t take place. If the schedule were to be altered to fit the MLS calendar it would show a depressing state of US hegemony in a region that already refuses to play its premier national team competition, the Gold Cup, outside of the USA.
If those running MLS really want to win the CCL, an impression they gave off last season when allowing Montréal Impact to postpone MLS games during their run to the final, they need to either change their own schedule to fit the rest of the continent, something Russia did a few years ago, or change their salary cap rules, therefore allowing teams to strengthen.
Written by Thomas Harrison
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