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The Concacaf Conundrum
by Ridge Mahoney, December 1st, 2008 4:36PM

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TAGS:  concacaf champions league, mls, superliga

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The introduction of the Concacaf Champions League taxes the participating MSL teams in 2008. The international schedule only gets worse next year when the Confederations Cup and Gold Cup are added to the mix.

Too many games, not enough dates.

When Toronto FC head coach John Carver appealed to have a league game with Chivas USA rescheduled because TFC was missing nine players to national-team callups, and MLS refused the request, the folly of ignoring FIFA's international fixture dates embarrassed the league yet again.

Next year, for the first time, MLS will suspend play for at least a few of the international dates. The issue of scheduling, always problematic for MLS, is a critical factor in mapping out its regular-season and international calendar next year.

"This year, we really started hearing from our fans about playing through the international dates," says Commissioner Don Garber. "We have a 26-week schedule so we can't take all of them off, but our league is at a point where we're willing to take the financial hit."

New England and Chivas USA, hampered by key injuries and a staggering load of games, stumbled against Joe Public FC (Trinidad & Tobago) and Tauro FC (Panama), respectively, in the two-match preliminary round of the Concacaf Champions' League. The Revs lost the first leg away, 2-1, and then were utterly humiliated, 4-0, at Gillette Stadium. Tauro eliminated Chivas USA, 3-1, on aggregate.

D.C. United's failure to advance out of a group with Marathon (Honduras), UNAM (Mexico) and Deportivo Saprissa (Costa Rica) guaranteed that the USL, with Montreal and Puerto Rico, would have more representation in the quarterfinals than MLS.

"At important times of their seasons, all three of those [MLS] teams ran into terrible injury problems," says Houston coach Dominic Kinnear of Houston. "I don't think it had anything to do with attitude. I think it had to do with the options available to them."

(The Dynamo didn't finish its CCL schedule until Nov. 26 because of a postponement in the aftermath of Hurricane Ike.)

The 2009 calendar is filling up faster than the guest list for Barack Obama's Presidential Inauguration. The 2008-09 Concacaf Champions League resumes in late February with the quarterfinals, the final round of 2010 World Cup qualifying begins in late March, the Confederations Cup is played in June, and the Gold Cup takes place in July. The next edition of the Concacaf Champions League (2009-10) kicks off in mid-summer. And that's not all.

Dates must be found for SuperLiga, the format of which was still under review. Sometime next spring MLS and USL teams enter the U.S. Open Cup.

Mexican teams compete in the Interliga (January), from which teams emerge to play in the Libertadores Cup (February-June). Several Mexican teams will also represent their country in the Copa Sudamericana (August-November).

Concacaf and MLS want to avoid the 2008 scenario by which the same four league teams – Chivas USA, Houston, New England and D.C. United -- that played in the inaugural Champions League were the same quartet that represented MLS in SuperLiga.

"I don't think you're going to see the same four teams play in both competitions," says D.C. president Kevin Payne. "Concacaf won't allow that to happen."

To give SuperLiga credibility, MLS awarded its spots to the top four teams during the regular season, based on points. Unfortunately, those same four teams also took the places allotted by Concacaf.

The 2009-10 CCL representatives will be Columbus (Supporters' Shield winner) and D.C. United (U.S. Open Cup champion). Since the other two slots are earmarked for the MLS Cup winner and runner-up, and the Crew is already qualified, the team with the next most points, Houston, would fill one slot (as Supporters' Shield runner-up and Western Conference champion). The remaining slot goes to the other MLS Cup finalist, New York.

'The challenge for SuperLiga is the scheduling," says Garber. "It's a great product, it works well on television, and we want to be sure to give our fans the same kind of quality next year as we did this year."

Concacaf (2004-08)

None of the seven MLS clubs that has competed in the last five editions of the Concacaf club championships has a winning record. By contrast, the USL's Montreal Impact and Puerto Rico Islanders both have winning records that earned them berths in the 2009 Concacaf Champions League quarterfinals.

TEAM                             W        L        T        PPG
Montreal Impact               4       1         3       1.88
Puerto Rico Islanders        3       2         3       1.50
Chicago Fire                     2       2         0       1.50
San Jose Earthquakes       1       1         0       1.50
Houston Dynamo              4       4         5       1.31
D.C. United                      6       8         6       1.22
Kansas City Wizards          0       1         1       0.50
Los Angeles Revolution      0       1         1       0.50
New England Revolution    0       1         1       0.50

(This article originally appeared in the December 2008 issue of Soccer America magazine.) 



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