New York City FC is set to enter the global game in 2020 with their inclusion in the Concacaf Champions League. While this may seem like a massive step forward, the continental competition has some fans dreaming of the glitz and glamor of Europe’s top club prize. However, the reality is far more depressing with a competition that has ever-changing formats, uninteresting fixtures, little money to be won and, worst of all, no real television exposure.
CONCACAF is Not Robust like UEFA
Major League Soccer tends to compare themselves with European leagues when discussing their own growth. While it is easy to help them make their point, it creates a false understanding of how soccer/football works in this part of the world. In many ways, CONCACAF is an island with only two major occupants, MLS and Liga MX. Both leagues vie for viewership in the United States where a majority of both leagues’ consumption occurs. Because of that, it is odd to see the Champions League ignore that fact but keeping the amount of teams in both leagues relatively low (four for MLS and four for Liga MX).
This frustration with the competition has led to both leagues creating their own standard, the Leagues Cup. Still, in its infancy, the Leagues Cup’s intentions are to create the exciting match-ups that tend to go array during the Champions League. Just this past year meetings between the LA Galaxy and Tijuana were made possible without the need to meet standards that don’t quite apply for the sporting model that both leagues adhere to. The competition itself had its own flaws that will not be discussed here. However, the point is to be made that both leagues see themselves as the major draw in the continental competition.
Just across the Atlantic in Europe, UEFA is a wealth of riches when it comes to competitive leagues. England, Spain, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and many others provide clubs with rich histories that play each other at the highest levels. That same model doesn’t fit in this part of the world as we’ve seen with little to no television coverage for the competition over the past two years.
The Money Isn’t There
Like any competition, it is what you win at the end that defines its value. In 2016 it was announced that just $500,000 would go to the winning club while $300,000 will find its way into the pocket of the runner-up. That pales in comparison to the UEFA Champions League’s which passes the $100 million mark. Adding the costs for some teams to relocate games, travel to different parts of the region and potential injuries, the CONCACAF version of the competition offers little to nothing in the way of prize money.
What the current Leagues Cup winners Cruz Azul received for their trophy lift isn’t known but the exposure on ESPN was far greater than what we’ve seen for the continental games. The intensity which the final was played against Tigres was also noticeable, leading to the possibility that the Leagues Cup could bear more weight in the discussion of meaningful competitions outside of the league.
The Club World Cup Isn’t Worth the Hassle
The basic idea of the best teams in the world facing each other in a tournament to crown the best club in the world each year is rather enticing. However, we’ve seen the FIFA Club World Cup devolve into a cash grab with teams from host countries getting in, formats that make little sense and a process that rewards European powerhouses while making those across the rest of the world suffer.
Only Brazilian clubs have been able to win the competition outside of Europe with the previous non-European winner happening back in 2012. To make matters worse, the competition is played during a tough time for CONCACAF teams. The MLS season ends in November while the Liga MX Apertura also comes to a close in December. Clubs are in the process of resetting for the following year, leaving them understaffed for the competition which falls in Europe’s winter break.
More changes are also expected to the competition with a four-year window between meetings and an expansion set in 2021. One thing that the expansion did not mention was just how CONCACAF teams would fit into the mix. Winners from UEFA and CONMEBOL were addressed but Concacaf seems to have been left out in the cold. This means there is little to play, especially with the Leagues Cup now in effect.
The general idea of a Champions League in North America seems decent on paper. However, NYCFC has more than a few issues to address before focusing on the continental competition. Getting depth in the striker position, looking for marquee names to bring fans back into the stadium and hiring a new head coach sit at the top of the list. Addressing these issues will help in the Champions League but the overall focus of MLS will remain the fundamental goal.
Written by: Anthony J. Merced