Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: 2011 FIFA Club World Cup, CONCACAF Champions Cup, CONCACAF Champions League final, Copa Libertadores, Costa Rica, David Beckham, DC United, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Intercontinental Cup, ISL, Javier Morales, Kyle Beckermann, Los Angeles Galaxy, Monterrey, Olimpia, Real Madrid, Real Salt Lake, Rio Tinto Stadium, Surinam, Thierry Henry, Toluca, Trinidad & Tobago
Real Salt Lake scrambled to earn a 2-2 draw with host Monterrey in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League final, setting up a climactic second-leg showdown April 27 at Sandy, Utah. The winner advances to the 2011 FIFA Club World Cup in December in Japan.
Argentine midfielder Javier Morales scored the equalizer in the 89th minute to lift the overall record of MLS clubs in Mexico to 0-21-4. Real Salt Lake heads into the deciding leg having gone unbeaten in 37 matches in all competitions at Rio Tinto Stadium. However, it will be without playmaker and captain Kyle Beckermann, an occasional U.S. international who will serve a yellow-card suspension. [April 20]
Comment: Major League Soccer has an international reputation of being on a par with, say, the Belgian second division and, an aging David Beckham or Thierry Henry aside, that’s not likely to change any time soon.* Rapid expansion in recent years hasn’t helped as the native talent pool has been repeatedly dilluted, but Real Salt Lake could deliver a minor blow to that perception when it meets Monterrey needing nothing more than a 1-1 draw to become only the third U.S. club in the competition’s 49-year history to finish first.
Geophysicists rule out the major continental shift necessary for MLS clubs to compete in the UEFA Champions League, so the only way MLS can lift its image is by winning the CONCACAF Champions League on a regular basis, beginning with Real Salt Lake next week. Since the North/Central America/Caribbean region began playing a club championship in 1962, better-paid, better-organized, better-supported Mexican teams have won 26 times (Club America and Cruz Azul five apiece), and no other country is even close. Costa Rica has nearly half as many winners, six, as Mexico has runners-up, 13. After El Salvador’s three winners, the U.S. is tied with Guatemala, Honduras, Trinidad & Tobago, Haiti and Surinam.
What makes this showdown significant for MLS is not just a CONCACAF Champions League trophy at stake but a berth in the FIFA Club World Cup. Back in 1998, when DC United defeated Toluca of Mexico to capture what was then called the CONCACAF Champions Cup, the first-ever FIFA Club World Cup was two years away. In 2000, the Los Angeles Galaxy beat Olimpia of Honduras in the CONCACAF final and thought it had booked a place in the following year’s Club World Cup in Spain, only for that competition to be cancelled for a number of reasons, chief among them the collapse of FIFA’s marking arm, ISL. (As some may recall, the Galaxy was grouped with Real Madrid and scheduled to play the reigning European champion in the first round at the Bernabeu.)
The FIFA Club World Cup, which officially replaced the Intercontinental Cup–the long-running meeting of European and South American club champs–in 2005, certainly is not the most gripping competition on the international soccer calendar. To some Euro champs, it’s been an annoying obligation in the heart of the regular league season, one in which winning is expected. To South American champs, it’s a chance to prove that the Copa Libertadores holder is the world’s best. But for the rest–the continental champions of Africa, Asia, Oceania and, yes, CONCACAF–the Club World Cup presents a priceless opportunity to show their wares to an Eurocentric soccer world.
*According to the most recent rankings of national leagues by the International Federation of Football History and Statistics, Major League Soccer comes in at No. 42. Spain tops the list, followed by England, then Italy, Brazil, Germany, France and Argentina, as well as No. 11 Belgium, No. 12 Mexico, No. 18 Paraguay, No. 27 Japan and No. 32 Israel. Immediately ahead of MLS are Croatia, Moldova, Serbia, Georgia and Tunisia. Immediately after are Saudi Arabia, Bolivia, Poland and Sweden. Five notches below America’s league is the Sudan. Obviously, MLS Commissioner Don Garber continues to have some work ahead of him.
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