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Image of SuperLiga Tainted
by Ridge Mahoney, August 1st, 2008 4:30PM

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In a Q&A with comedian and Seattle Sounders FC minority owner Drew Carey, he was asked to describe SuperLiga in five words or less. He replied: "More Money for Mexican Owners," which was clever and funny but not altogether accurate. The tournament is generating money for MLS and its marketing arm SUM, but is also reviving the ill feelings and poor sportsmanship seen before when Mexico's national team loses to the USA.

In its two years, SuperLiga has attracted midweek crowds that shame those of MLS, and produced more than a few memorable games. Unfortunately it has also given another meaning to the capital letters in its name, as in Sore Losers.

Pachuca players stormed the referee and his assistants after losing to Houston, 2-0, in their semifinal Tuesday. A blown offside call denied Pachuca what would have been a go-ahead goal in the 60th minute, when Gabriel Caballero steered a low cross from Juan Rojas past Houston keeper Pat Onstad. Bobby Boswell and Corey Ashe scored 10 minutes apart to knock off the defending SuperLiga champs, who didn't take the setback very well.

A melee erupted at midfield Wednesday following New England's 1-0 victory over Atlante, which had two players sent off before the final whistle, and three more shown the red card for their post-match antics. Goalkeeper and captain Federico Vilar bitterly proclaimed the referee, Carlos Batres, to be a cheat, and claimed he'd been bought.

Because SuperLiga is a concoction of MLS and the Mexican league, it is not an official CONCACAF competition, subject to confederation rules and policies. It does have the authority to mete out punishments for acts committed by its member nations. The players, coaches and officials can be also sanctioned and disciplined by the associations, but therein lies a conflict.

The tournament exists because both the Mexican and U.S. leagues recognize competitive and financial benefits, despite the imbalance in playing form between teams finishing up their preseasons in Mexico and MLS teams deep into their regular season. Disputes regarding scheduling, officiating, field conditions, etc., are nothing new, and whether it's World Cup qualifiers, Gold Cup, the discontinued CONCACAF Champions' Cup, SuperLiga, or new CONCACAF Champions' League, those issues won't go away.

The postmatch skirmishes tainted the image of SuperLiga, which is in danger of being shoved aside with the advent of the Champions League and scheduling of the Copa Sudamericana, which includes Mexican teams and comes right after SuperLiga. MLS will have to think hard about whether having four teams sacrifice weekend dates to play SuperLiga games best serves the interests of its teams, and if the sight of disgruntled team officials as well as players throwing jabs enhances the image of soccer in America.

I can see angry MLS coaches, say a Steve Nicol or Dominic Kinnear, angrily berating the referee after losing a game. I can see Eddie Robinson getting into the officials' faces and I can see Preki being dismissed from the bench, as he was a few weeks ago, for using foul language.

But I don't envision en-masse field invasions by MLS players, coaches and team officials anxious to spark scuffles, and I'd expect either the league or U.S. Soccer, or both, to mete out punishments if such incidents occurred.

If CONCACAF or the Mexican soccer association (FMF) doesn't hand out some fairly stiff fines for the semifinal melees, SuperLiga will lose much of whatever integrity and credibility it has accrued the past two years. And if Mexican team owners object and balk at playing SuperLiga next time around, MLS and SUM will best be served creating another property to achieve their competitive and financial objectives.

And now that the SuperLiga prize money is guaranteed to go to an MLS team, too bad Houston and New England can't use that leverage to insist they will decide how much of the $1 million winner's pot goes to the players, rather the 15 percent decreed by the league. That proviso is another black-eye when it comes to MLS compensation.

 

 

 

 



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