Thursday, August 17, 2006

Why doesn't CONCACAF have a real regional tournament?

Last night Internacional won Latin America's most important club competition, the Copa Libertadores. The title is the first for the club and they will now get to face the best clubs in the world at FIFA's Club World Championship from Dec 10-17 in Japan.

The Copa, for those who do not know, is a tournament that pits the best clubs in South America against one another. This is the same system used for Europe's Champion's League.

These tournaments overflow with excitement as the greatest teams of the leagues get to play it out on the pitch. It is like a smaller and less nationalistic version of the World Cup.

So where is MLS's regional tournament? We do have the Champions Cup, but it has been less then impressive. There is no group phase, it draws no media attention and due to the timing of the event, the MLS is only in there pre-season. Not a winning combination.

But what can be done?

Brian Straus has a must read piece regarding the need for and how to go about making a good regional tournament.

He makes a good argument that this one really cannot be blamed solely on the MLS. Instead, he points the finger at the true target, CONCACAF.

Unfortunately, it does not seem that CONCACAF has any interest in changing things. The Confederation, which keeps offices on Fifth Ave. in Manhattan, has demonstrated a real affinity for the status quo. President Jack Warner of Trinidad & Tobago and General Secretary Chuck Blazer of the U.S. have been in power for a long time and are tight with FIFA leadership. In the interest of maintaining their positions, they do little to attract attention to themselves or the Confederation, preferring to dole out FIFA grants to supporters in the various national associations in exchange for support. Any effort to grow the sport, or create interesting and lucrative competitions, would attract fans, sponsors and people with an eye on a piece of the financial or leadership pie. So, things stay as they are, and we're left with the people who thought up the "Giants Cup," signed over the Gold Cup rights to Inter/Forever, and do nothing to advance the club game for any of the teams and fans who depend on them.

Finding a winning solution will mean not involving Jack Warner. MLS Commissioner Don Garber mentioned a new tournament with 'our friends from down under' during his state of the league address. Let's hope something actually comes of that or else US and CONCACAF players will continue to suffer due to the mistakes of those at the top of the organization.

Don't forget the US Soccer Carnival part IV.

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