As most teams in Major League Soccer prepare for their playoff runs and end of the season, a new tournament is just beginning for a select few teams.
Like in Europe, teams in North America and Central America actually have a Champions League tournament too! Can you believe it? I want you to tweet me right now (@jp_lococo) telling me I’m crazy if you are already thinking in your head, “Yeah, I am most likely not going to read the rest of this post because I couldn’t care less.”
I have many friends who I would say consider themselves “soccer fans”. Most of them follow the English Premier League on some level and they also keep an eye on MLS, most of the time because I guilt trip them into paying attention. Nonetheless, they consider themselves fans of the beautiful game.
But if I asked those same friends how the CONCACAF Champions League works, a strong percentage of them couldn’t even name the five MLS teams that are competing in the tournament this year. Could you?
Every season, the UEFA Champions League takes place and brings fans across the world some of the best soccer action as top clubs with their world-class players clash for European glory. Beginning this past Wednesday, the CONCACAF Champions League began in our region.
But what should you know about the CONCACAF Champions League? Below are five things I want soccer fans to know about this international tournament.
1.) This year Sporting KC, LA Galaxy, San Jose Earthquakes, Houston Dynamo and Montreal Impact are the five MLS teams representing MLS in the tournament and all will be looking to make history by becoming the first MLS team to win the Champions League since the new format came into play six years ago.
2.) Speaking of new format, prior to 2008 the tournament was referred to as the “Champions Cup”. During the “Champions Cup” era, the tournament was played under numerous formats consisting of considerable less teams that are now included in the current format.
3.) The tournament currently consist of twenty-four teams that are drawn into the group stage. There are eight groups consisting of three teams in each. Each team will play the other teams in its group home and away, with the top team entering the knockout rounds when the competition re-starts in 2014.
4.) The tournament consist of four teams from Mexico, four from the US, one from Canada, two from most of the Central American nations, and a total of three Caribbean teams.
5. ) Mexican clubs have been the most successful in the tournament through the years. Mexican clubs have accumulated the highest number of victories, with twenty-nine titles dating back to the “Champions Cup” days. Not much as changed since CONCACAF implemented the format switch in 2008. All but one final has been between two Mexican teams and the outlier was in 2009 when Real Salt Lake of MLS lost to Monterrey.
It is never easy for MLS teams to win games in Mexico but the gap between the two countries is definitely closing. Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber has openly stated he wants MLS to become one of the top leagues by 2020 and improving the results in the Champions League will definitely help in achieving that goal.
If you consider yourself a legitimate fan of MLS or soccer in the United States, then I hope you have taken something away from this post. It is vital to the growth of soccer in the United States that MLS teams continue to improve on their results in this tournament. Equally as important is the fan support continuing to grow. Strong fan support will always improve the product on the field. The energy and passion from the stands urges players to push forward to play even harder than they normally would. Creating vibrant atmospheres will continue to draw in fans to the tournament who may have been outsiders before because they now see others paying attention. With the interest of this tournament continuing to grow every year, hopefully fans will continue educate themselves and root on OUR league, Major League Soccer, in international play.
How interested are you in following the CONCACAF Champions League? If you aren’t going to be following it, then why not? Leave your thoughts on the tournament below.