CONCACAF Watch: The case for changing the CCL calendar
Editor's Note: CONCACAF hipster Jon Arnold brings Goal readers stories and opinions from around the region in a weekly column.
MLS had four teams with a chance to get to a CONCACAF Champions League semifinal spot, but instead they'll look on as four Liga MX clubs fight to become the latest Mexican team to win the continental championship.
It once again sparked discussions about how the league's compare with each other, and that's fair - though much of the talk results in sweeping generalizations that don't always hold up. One potential reason MLS hasn't won the tournament yet that often gets thrown around is the fact that MLS teams are still in their preseason. Some teams, like the Montreal Impact in 2014-15, have prioritized the CCL and reaped the benefits. The Impact made the final last season. But too often teams have their eyes on the domestic season and don't prepare for CCL matches with the meticulousness needed to win the title.
The Asian Champions League runs from January until November, and a similar switch for CONCACAF would eliminate the issue of MLS teams arriving to the knockout rounds while still knocking off the rust of preseason.
MLS teams would absolutely benefit from having the knockout round matches played in the back half of the year rather than in late February and March. But why should the entire confederation change how it operates just because American and Canadian teams struggle to lift the trophy? MLS commissioner Don Garber and his associates need to convince CONCACAF that it would benefit all of its teams to change things, not just their own league.
The first point to argue would be that changing the calendar would provide more in-form MLS teams without creating out-of-form teams from elsewhere. If the semifinals and final were played early enough in the fall, MLS teams could be in form while Mexican and Central American clubs would be nearing their postseason for the winter short tournaments. With all of the region's top teams preparing for the postseason in October or November, this tweak wouldn't see any teams left out in the cold.
More important than noting that the status quo could largely be maintained in regards to form is that a fall final would lead to a more in-form team in the Club World Cup. CONCACAF teams have never finished better than third place at the global event, and that hasn't happened since 2012. It's going to be difficult to break through at the Club World Cup, so far ahead are the European teams. But Club America wasn't able to get past the Asian champion in the recently concluded 2015 event, while Cruz Azul fell to Auckland City in 2014. Putting the final closer to the Club World Cup helps make sure that one of the region's best actually is representing it a month later, rather than a champion that has six months to wait and might have sold pieces or lost its momentum.
Another point in favor of MLS teams having a better chance of succeeding is simple watchablity. The rest of this year's tournament might produce some interesting matches, with Tigres and America contenders for a double. But no market other than Mexico will have any real rooting interest, and fans regularly have a chance to see these teams go up against each other in Mexico. The whole point of a champions league is to see international battles. Instead, we're looking at something resembling a preseason tournament Mexican clubs would conduct in the U.S. during the offseason. It's not only MLS that could break through. Saprissa, Alajuelense, Herediano and Olimpia are among the teams that have made inroads toward breaking through in CCL play, but so far haven't been able to crack Mexico's hegemony. Fans will tune in to watch their teams. This year? It seems unlikely.
Liga MX has shown its the strongest league in the region. There's no reason that wouldn't reign true in the fall like it does in the spring. Switching the calendar isn't a must, but its benefits could go past MLS and help the entire region.