That Other Champions League

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In the Presidents’ Day episode of The Daily, we talk Champions League soccer CONCACAF edition before following up on the UEFA Champions League ticket pricing story. 

By J Hutcherson - WASHINGTON, DC (Feb 21, 2011) US Soccer Players -- Columbus and Real Salt Lake get the early start to games that actually count, and it's courtesy of two Major League Soccer clubs making the quarterfinal stage of the CONCACAF Champions League (Tue, 8pm ET - FSC). Though the series starts in late February, this is a significant opportunity for MLS. One of their clubs advance, and it's not in the Mexican League bracket.

Let's play worst possible scenario for a second, comparing teams based on how the did in their groups. The winner of Columbus - RSL plays the winner of Saprissa - Olimpia. Though Saprissa is the bigger name, Olimpia actually did better in a group that contained Mexico's Toluca. Saprissa finished second in their group to Monterrey, with Seattle at the bottom. It's an open question which matchup would be tougher, but Real Salt Lake also finished with 13 points at the top of their group, ahead of Mexico's Cruz Azul.

Columbus finished second in their group to Santos Laguna, along with Monterrey the two Mexican clubs that won their groups. They're separated on the other side of the quarterfinal bracket. Based on the group stage, the expectation should be Monterrey - Santos in the semis with Monterrey advancing.

On the MLS side of the bracket, the expectation should be Real Salt Lake - Olimpia, with RSL scoring more goals and having a slight edge on goal differential from the group stage. Monterrey did three points better than anybody else in the group, so they keep that advantage through the final.

Again, working only on what we know from the group stage, it's only Monterrey in the position of favorite as we start the quarterfinal stage. Since CONCACAF decided to create th competitive imbalance of loading up Mexico on one half of the bracket, this will be the first Champions League with an American club in the quarterfinals. It should also be the first Champions League with a Mexico - USA final.

That's a game changer three editions into a tournament that, so far, has given us all-Mexico finals. Even if it seems a little less than sporting to ensure that only one Mexican club can advance to the finals, it's better for the future of the tournament.

Mexico's clubs have already done the hard work and made the big statement. They're the teams to beat in this region, especially at home. Taking all four semifinal slots last season put an exclamation mark on that. The four Mexican quarterfinalists pushing their best team forward could end up giving the Primera Division another piece of evidence that they're producing the best clubs playing the best soccer over a two-leg series.

Then again, there are other leagues telling different stories in CONCACAF. Saprissa is historically strong. Olimpia is the vanguard of Honduran soccer at a time when that country is on the rise in the international game. Real Salt Lake has a depth that most MLS teams can't seem to manage, and both they and Columbus have upped their preseason training to try and take this all-MLS series.

For Major League Soccer, the biggest game of 2011 comes in the next round. Tuesday starts the 180 minutes of figuring out who gets to represent their League in a CONCACAF Champions League semifinal. Take that next step, and we'll talk about the 2011 FIFA Club World Cup.

Choice Of Words

UEFA director of competition Giorgio Marchetti was the one who actually said that his organization’s pricing for the Champions League final was “the market price,” but it’s the organization as a whole who has to live with that concept.  Remember, this is the group currently trying to revolutionize European club soccer by banning clubs from Europe that don’t meet strict financial requirements.

We should expect to get a definition of ‘strict’ between now and the actual implementation of those financial regulations, with England’s Premier League already giving us an indication that some parts of UEFA’s plan won’t work for them.  The “market price” of Premier League soccer might require the kind of financial maneuvering UEFA no longer feels like tolerating.  Who wins the day in that argument could result in more change than UEFA expected. 

Not helping things at all is once again upping the price on Champions League final tickets.  Again, UEFA seems to be trying to turn the Champions League final into an event, and fair enough.  They just seem to be doing it without really considering what it might do to their public image.  At a time when they need to be the serious organization thinking in broad terms and enforcing right action for the future of European club soccer, they’re talking about what the market will bare.  The risk is that their constituencies will start talking about the same thing, and it won’t fit with the financial regulations UEFA is trying to enforce. 

Comments, questions, solutions to problems that have yet to present themselves.  Please, tell me all about it.

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