Everything I wanted to say last week
Posted on March 20, 2013 4:16 am
How ’bout them Sounders?
By now, those of you who follow the CONCACAF Champions League and/or MLS are likely aware of Seattle’s historic 3-1 quarterfinal victory (3-2 aggregate) over the 10 men chosen by coach Ricardo “Tuca” Ferretti to represent Tigres…plus one who is unlikely to ever again receive the call. I did get to watch the second half in its entirety (and yes, flagrantly violate the neighborhood soundspace agreement after Djimi Traore’s goal), as well as the last half-hour of Houston’s debacle in Mexico and the LA Galaxy’s romp over Herediano. The rest of the week, however, was dedicated to preparing for a Comprehensive Exam in my graduate program, for which reason I had to leave a number of pertinent topics unaddressed.
Fortunately, assuming a positive evaluation of my work from last Saturday, such a temporary suspension of The Regional Review will not need to be repeated any time soon. Continuing briefly with the personal note, the question of my professional future will have to be addressed over the next three months, and at the end I will look over my schedule to determine if it permits the continuation of my blogging commitments. To be honest, though, if my ruminations on the major football tournaments in our region were not transcribed via these entries, they would float around teasing and tormenting my mind to the point that my productivity elsewhere would be unaffected. That is, not writing here would not provide any appreciable benefit to the rest of my life…what? If the CAS can employ double-negatives, whom am I to argue.
Without further ado, allow me to unleash the following thoughts and reactions to last week’s events.
The results from the second leg of the 2012-13 CCL quarterfinals were a faithful reflection of the current balance of power in the region. The Caribbean’s peripheral role at club level can best be summed up by the fact that since the 2008-09 Champions League, not a single representative has reached the knockout round. Also, as doors continue to open for Central American players in MLS and mid-level European clubs, UNCAF clubs have struggled to handle the talent drain and have subsequently lost protagonism on the continental stage. Lastly, having two teams in the CCL semifinals is a disappointment for Mexico and an unprecedented achievement for the US.
When I openly wished for Tigres to fall short of their first international title, out of concern for how Tuca would approach the Club World Cup, regular reader It’s Called FOOTBALL asserted that the Brazilian would eschew his usual repugnance for international competitions and field starters in Morocco. Such a case will have to wait for another year; Tuca’s decision to entrust the most successful continental campaign in Tigres history (and there aren’t many) to the reserves, though, hardly inspires confidence that the Mundialito would have received a different treatment.
The good news from the Gold Cup schedule announcement is that either on CONCACAF’s invitation or their own volition, 10 of the participating federations took advantage of the clause in the CONCACAF Statutes allowing them to send representatives to attend the “draw” ceremony.
However, no “draw” ever took place. As General Secretary Enrique Sanz explained, “there was no draw, with the objective of bringing the national teams to where their respective communities are” (translation mine). Nor was any seeding procedure taken into account: whereas the three strongest Caribbean qualifiers had previously been kept apart in the group stage, so that any all-Caribbean matchup involved the weakest participant (Haiti-Guadeloupe in 2007, Haiti-Grenada in 2009 and Jamaica-Grenada in 2011), Trinidad and Tobago and Haiti will renew acquaintances in Group B while Martinique return from a decade-long absence in Group A.
Only two theories come to mind on why the participants would accept the arbitrary groups. First, perhaps everyone involved was more interested in maximizing ticket revenue than transparency, since the Gold Cup is CONCACAF’s most profitable tournament (and the teams taking part would be in line for prize money). More likely, with eight of 12 teams reaching the quarterfinals, the head coaches and administrators present figured that the eventual group placement would not significantly affect their chances of reaching the knockout round. For instance, while Group B appears the strongest on paper (from top to bottom), just about any fan of El Salvador, Trinidad and Tobago and Haiti would consider the other two teams beatable and one of the “best third-place” spots an attainable target.
We will have to wait for the 2013-14 CCL draw in May, then, to observe how President Jeffrey Webb and Sanz handle a situation in which CONCACAF’s traditional arbitrariness no longer aligns with the interests of its membership, given that only one team survives each group. As an example, the 2013 Canadian champion would view reaching the quarterfinals as a much more realistic goal in San Jose’s group than in Tijuana’s. The best team from El Salvador would probably feel the same way; the only means of satisfactorily responding to both their interests would be through a random draw.
Did you know that Tuca was once considered to coach Mexico? At least until Mexican Football Federation (FMF) President Justino Compean explained to him that el Tri would have to play other countries…at which point, Tuca muttered “partidos moleros” under his breath and passed up the opportunity.
By this time last year, the cast for the 2012-13 CCL had already expanded, as 2011 Nicaraguan Apertura champion Real Esteli clinched their country’s sole berth in the tournament in convincing style. This time around, due to a number of Central American countries postponing their Clausura tournaments for the Copa Centroamericana, we have yet to even bring out the list of 2013-14 qualifiers. While we wait, here is a quick update of how the Apertura winners (and runner-up) are faring in the race for top berths.
Mexico – Based on the hand-me-down scenarios spelled out by the FMF last year, we know that Tijuana reaching the Clausura final would guarantee a top seed (MEX2) for their opponent and a CCL berth (MEX4) for the highest team in the Clausura not yet qualified, while Toluca winning the tournament would bring in none other than Club Leon as MEX3. Neither outcome looks terribly likely at the moment: the Xolos are in playoff position at 7th place, but five outsiders remain within one game of them, and their attention is currently split between the Clausura and the Copa Libertadores. Toluca are similarly involved in the two competitions, but are five points out of the domestic liguilla with only six games left.
Guatemala – Thanks to archrivals Municipal and Xelaju bringing up the rear in the Clausura 10 games in, Apertura champions Comunicaciones have amassed a 21-point lead in the full-year table, with 74 points to second-place Heredia’s 53.
Belize – The days of having to forfeit their CCL spot over infrastructural problems may be over: Football Federation of Belize (FFB) President Ruperto Vicente promised to get the FFB Stadium up to standard ahead of the CONCACAF inspection in May, so that a Belizean club may participate in the CCL for only the second time since Hankook Verdes got pulverized by Cruz Azul in 2008. Apertura winners Belmopan Bandits are currently in the drivers’ seat for the potential honor with 44 points over the two seasons; as one can expect, the Belize Defence Force and the Police (United) are hot on their heels, with 43 and 37 points, respectively.
El Salvador – Halfway into the Clausura, Isidro Metapan find themselves in an unfamiliar slump. They are eighth place out of 10 teams, five points out of the playoffs and are sitting third in the full-year table, with 46 points to 49 for Alianza and 53 for FAS.
Honduras – Thanks to their own imperious form and the inconsistency of just about everyone else in the Liga Nacional, Olimpia lead the full-year table with 61 points. With only five matchdays left in the Clausura, the only team that could catch them are runners-up Victoria, who are well behind on 48 points; el Leon could thus wrap up the HON1 spot this very weekend.
Nicaragua – No one will be surprised to find Real Esteli atop the full-year table. Old hands Diriangen are close behind, with 36 points to 43 for el Tren del Norte; with six fixtures left, including another Clásico Nacional between the two, Esteli will have to keep plugging along in order to guarantee their next international adventure.
Costa Rica – Alajuelense are currently on top of the full-year table with 63 points. The only problem: archrivals Saprissa are only one point behind on 62, while Herediano remains within striking distance at 55.
Panama – Lastly, Arabe Unido lead the way with 51 points over both seasons. The recently-promoted Rio Abajo, however, are dead set on proving that their run to the Apertura semifinals was no fluke, and they lie just behind on 50 points. The more traditional San Francisco and Tauro are further back, on 42 and 41 points, respectively.
Finally, I would like to commend the United States Soccer Federation for coming up with a tangible benefit of the NASL retaining second-division status – since, as MLS Commissioner Don Garber has stated on multiple occasions, the instability of lower-division clubs frustrates any hope of pro/rel in the short term.
Given that both the NASL and the the third-division USL-Pro had entered the 2012 Open Cup in the second round with 16 cumulative teams, and that both had plans to expand, I wondered how future Open Cup tournaments would accommodate the extra teams (assuming no change in format). As announced earlier this month, the USSF wisely decided to give the NASL priority, with all six participating teams (the New York Cosmos elected to sit out this edition) entering in the second round. The 10 best US-based USL-Pro teams will join them at the same stage, while the rest will have to battle the amateurs in the first round. With the Cosmos, the Virginia Cavalry and Indianapolis likely to join in the fun next year, the NASL will continue to take Open Cup second-round spots away from the USL-Pro…as it should be.