Copa MX needs reform to draw fans' attention
The Copa MX kicked off Tuesday. Could you feel the excitement? Did you even know?
The tournament in its current state is one simply for the die-hards. The reigning champion is Chivas. Ask the Guadalajara side's fans if they feel like champions.
The cup simply fails to capture the imagination at the moment. That's a shame because there's actually a good deal of history behind it. The Copa Mexico traces its roots back to 1907, when the British ambassador to Mexico, Reginald Tower, donated a trophy (the Copa Tower — it's a bit hazy whether he named it after himself or if the gift was named in his honor) for teams to fend for. Once the Mexican federation was founded in the 1920s, the competition began in earnest in 1932 thanks to backing from president Lazaro Cardenas.
It carried on in fits and starts until 1997, when Mexico was granted entries to the 1998 Copa Libertadores, the South American version of the Champions League. But the tournament was launched once again, this time under the Copa MX name, for the 2012 Apertura.
That's a good decision. There's plenty of room in Mexican soccer for a cup. But there are some reforms necessary before fans will start to pay attention to the tournament and lend it the relevance needed to make up a truly exciting event.
In the tournament's current state, teams mostly play youth sides, with many Liga MX sides sending out entire squads of reserves for road matches while the first team stays behind to train for the weekend's important league contests.
It's good to see those players and fun to be able to tune into matches featuring promising players who don't get much face time. But with each club already operating teams at the U-20, U-17 and U-15 levels, plus the Segunda Primera for players who age out but aren't in the first team, there's already plenty of opportunity for these players to get meaningful minutes.
How do we get the best of the best playing in the competition? The principal concern should be bringing the number of games down.
We live in an age of excess in soccer scheduling. Television networks want more matches to fill the time on their new networks dedicated to soccer (and, yes, Web outlets like this one will happily take your page views as well). Perhaps that's how we ended up with this bloated Copa MX — one that features round-robin group play with home and away matches for each team involved. It's simply too many games.
Even if fatigue weren't a factor, the whole excitement of a cup comes thanks to one-off matches. There is no urgency to Tuesday's or Wednesday's matches. Why would there be? It's not win or go home. It's win or maybe draw or even lose and still have a chance to pick up the bonus point in the second leg against the same opponent. The groups are unnecessary fluff, and the bonus point is an attempt at innovation that instead is confusing even to the coaches and players trying to win them. Each contest should be a one-off match.
It might be worth making matchups regional and seeing if the rivalry angle can be played up. In the current situation, many owners drastically lower admission or even let fans in for free, then boost the concession prices in hopes of making something off the midweek games.
Another confusing element is that there is a tournament in the Apertura and another in the Clausura. The league already plays short tournaments. Why not use the cup to reward teams that are able to sustain success from July to May?
If this format sounds familiar, it should. It's the same thing the FA Cup does, and similar to the long-running U.S. Open Cup. While there are plenty of occasions when Mexico can and should stand out as an innovator, the FA Cup is something worth emulating. Organizers can even play off the history of Reginald Tower bringing the trophy to the country last century, a subtle nod to the British influence on the growth of the game in Mexico.
Unless the FMF does something to liven the Copa MX, it will continue to languish as a secondary interest. With a bit of fine-tuning, it's a competition that could get fans buying tickets and tuning in.