There was a bit of a knuffle bunny last week, when there was talk of stripping the Open Cup of its CONCACAF Champions League slot. The USSF shot that down like the Red Baron shooting down Snoopy, which is a relief, because we all love the Open Cup more than life itself. By the way, if you like to hook up electrodes to frogs' brains and make their legs move – stop. That's cruel. But if that's the sort of thing you like, just mention the CONCACAF Champions League and MLS in the same sentence. To hear people talk, the top priority of American soccer is to win the CCL, and everything – player development, scheduling, salaries, league structures, television – everything should be put into a Manhattan Project in order to beat Monterrey or whoever in a home and home series. Once that happens, we are told, MLS will win over its millions of doubters domestic and foreign, a new Golden Age will dawn, Maitreya will reveal himself, gas will be a nickel a gallon, the Star-Bellied Sneetch will lie down with the Plain-Bellied Sneetch, and The Simpsons will be funny again. I predict this will remain a popular and convincing argument, right up until an eighth of a second after an MLS team wins a CONCACAF Champions League title, at which point we will all fixate on the next reason why MLS critics won't embrace the league.
And if a Canadian MLS team won the CCL – well, the mental gymnastics among MLS defenders and critics alike will be wonderful. Fans of Mexican teams will simply be banging their heads on their desks.
But the arguments over which tournament should earn which slots led me to a thought exercise. Let's say Canadian soccer gets good again way, way ahead of schedule, and next year this happens:
Vancouver wins MLS Cup; Toronto loses in the MLS Cup Final; and Montreal wins the Supporters Shield; while FC Edmonton took advantage of the MLS teams focusing elsewhere to win the Canadian Championship.
So who of the above qualifies for the CCL?
….oh, so you know the answer. You all already knew this. I'm the only zagnut in the English-speaking world who didn't know, and now we can power the Rocky Mountain Grid with all your eye-rolling at my expense.
Well, so what else is new. Anyway, the answer in this scenario is, Edmonton. And ONLY Edmonton. That four-team tickle-fight we've made much merry towards? As long as Canada has only one spot – and a few more years where Canadian teams win every MLS trophy available, that might change – it's going to the Canadian Championship winner.
So who gets the American spots in this scenario? Well, in this scenario, the Open Cup winner would be the only team in the country who could accept the invitation without blushing heavily. Even if something really weird happens, and the team with the all-time worst record in MLS history happened to bunker their way to the Open Cup. We HAVE to keep a CCL spot for the Open Cup.
As for the other spots – the second most fair result would be to give it to the teams which finished highest in the Supporters Shield standings. Which, considering how the playoffs shook out, might be the fourth, fifth and sixth best records that year.
The MOST fair result would be for the USSF to tell Vancouver and Montreal "You know what, here, have our tickets, we're washing our hair that year," but I wouldn't expect that outcome.
By the way, it bears repeating - having to go on the road first is unfair to the higher seed. I'd be really ticked off at MLS if I were New Zealand.
That's a joke.
Huh. The old "Leave qualification up to the kindness and attention span of our fiercest rival, then score more goals at home in the playoff than we did in the entire Hex" trick. Works every time.
That's a Don Adams reference. Followed by a Billy Dee Williams Colt .45 commercial reference. In 2013. Look me in the eye, and tell me Mexico deserves more comedy effort than that.
And now – barring a Biblical collapse in Middle-Earth – all is forgiven. That's the beauty of qualification. I hope next year in Brazil, Mexico makes it as far as possible before they bump into us. I hope they get to the Final.
Because the better they do, and the more Mexico celebrates a potential all-time great performance, the more American fans can say, "Yeah, remember, we made that possible. You're welcome."
I don't want them to actually WIN the World Cup, of course. Don't be silly.