CCL Feedback from the Defending Champion

Posted on May 28, 2011 2:09 pm

In the CONCACAF Champions League era, Monterrey is the first defending champion to qualify for the next tournament. For that matter, Monterrey is the first former champion to return to the CCL – both Atlante (2008-09 winners) and Pachuca (2009-10) have only played on the continental stage on one occasion each.

Apparently Monterrey’s President of Sports, Luis Miguel Salvador, believes that this distinction gives his club the privilege of telling CONCACAF how to improve its tournament. I’ll go over Monterrey’s recommendations, my reaction and what I think are the chances that each one gets adopted for the 2012-13 CCL onwards – assuming, of course, that Chuck Blazer gives their proposals the time of day.

Proposal 1: Reduce the number of games in the group stage.

According to Salvador, “in the first stage there are six games and in the second [stage] as well, and they are too many [games].” He did not state how many games he thought should take place in the group stage.

My Reaction: Even if there were a more valid reason for Monterrey to suggest this change, Salvador chose the wrong way to go about it. Yes, from a Mexican perspective, the group stage does not provide much of a challenge. Last I checked, the big teams in England, Italy and Spain breeze through the group stage of the UEFA Champions League as well, and you do not hear them complaining about a fixture overload.

Perhaps he could have better framed the argument according to CONCACAF’s own interest; for instance, he could have made an argument based on attendance numbers in the group stage and on CONCACAF losing money in this round (since they foot the bill for every away team). Salvador’s complaint about the number of games, however, just comes off as needless whining.

Chances of Adoption: 0%. Frankly, this half-hearted suggestion fails to provide benefits on a regional level and runs counter to the whole point of having a group stage. With the current format, the teams that make it that far get to play six matches against higher-quality opponents than those they would face in their domestic league (with the notable exception of Mexico). The players gain plenty of experience with away games, overcoming the psychological barrier of playing in another country and familiarizing themselves with what a select few may face later on with their national teams. And CONCACAF itself gets to maintain a year-round presence in the region, growing awareness of the Champions League far beyond what the now-defunct Champions Cup could ever have accomplished.

Proposal 2: Reset yellow-card accumulation at the semifinal stage.

My Reaction: This is, by far, the most reasonable of Monterrey’s suggestions. It neatly follows the change that FIFA imposed at the last World Cup, in which accumulated yellow cards were wiped out after the quarterfinal stage. And it reduces the possibility that another Kyle Beckerman-like situation could occur, with a player getting suspended for one leg of the Final because of a first yellow card received way-back-when.

Chances of Adoption: 95%. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if CONCACAF instituted this change for the upcoming CCL.

Proposal 3: Giving a “privilege” or “benefit” in the semifinals and the Final to teams that collected more points in the group stage. Salvador didn’t elaborate, but my guess is that he means that said team should get to play the second leg at home.

My Reaction: On one hand, if you look at Monterrey’s path to the 2010-11 CCL title, Salvador has a point. They comfortably handled what was arguably the strongest group in the tournament, only to play the second leg of both their semifinal (against Cruz Azul) and the Final (against Real Salt Lake) on the road. Theirs was the strongest case against the bracket “drawn” by CONCACAF for the knockout round, and I can see why they would have considered it unfair.

On the other hand, each team in the group stage can only win points against the three opponents in their group. My concern is that implementing this suggestion would unfairly benefit teams that racked up points in an easier group. Take the example of this year’s Copa Libertadores (and that competition does compensate the team with the better group stage record in the knockout round, as Monterrey suggests). Would anyone like to argue that Paraguay’s Libertad (group stage opponents: Once Caldas, Universidad San Martin de Porres, and San Luis) would have deserved home-field advantage all the way to the Final, over the likes of LDU Quito (group stage opponents: Penarol, Independiente and Godoy Cruz)?

Chances of Adoption: 35%. Valid arguments can be made either way; having said that, I think that CONCACAF strongly considers, then ultimately drops this suggestion.

Proposal 4: Turn off the away-goals rule for the Final.

My Reaction: Monterrey would definitely have felt hard done by if they had “lost” the 2010-11 CCL Final without actually losing a game. Then again, knowing that the away-goals rule was in effect, they let Real Salt Lake walk out of the Tec with a tie, then decided to defensively see out the second half of the Final’s second leg, knowing full well how that went for Cruz Azul the year before. Had RSL found the equalizing goal to take the championship on away goals, Monterrey would have had no one to blame but themselves.

And as far as the “spectacle” part of the equation is concerned: does anyone think that RSL would have pushed so hard to score in Mexico if the away-goals rule were not in effect? Or that the last game would have been more entertaining if RSL were doggedly pursuing a goal in order to go into extra time, instead of winning the title outright?

The rest of the world is split on the issue: I don’t know whether away goals count or not in the Final of the O-League in Oceania, but they do in the Final of the CAF Champions League and they do not in the Final of the Copa Libertadores.

Chances of Adoption: 45%. I think this measure has a stronger chance than Proposal 3, but I doubt that CONCACAF itself will be sufficiently convinced by the “benefit” side of the analysis to approve the change.

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