Glorified friendlies or legitimate competition? That is the question.
The wild debates over the brand new Leagues Cup competition formed by Liga MX and MLS are furious and plentiful. Criticisms galore can be found on any popular twitter feed related to soccer in North America regarding the new eight-team competition introduced this season. And those criticisms are justified. Tame matches played in front of meager crowds (most of which are fans of the visiting Liga MX club) by MLS teams who aren’t bothered to care during the middle of their domestic seasons. This is not how to convince anyone that a competition should be taken seriously.
While the Leagues Cup seems to be a bad idea, it’s a bad idea spawned from a very good one. The already much-maligned competition can be considered the offspring of the Campeones Cup. Yes, that same Campeones Cup that Atlanta United will host Club America in on August 14.
On the surface, it’s human nature to want to know who the best is. With Liga MX and MLS looking to form a more close working relationship, having a one-game playoff between the best of each league makes perfect sense. The potential is there for great things. It’s now just a matter of getting the teams to buy-in and treat it seriously.
If the inaugural match is any indication of what to expect, we should be in for a treat. Despite the the poor timing of the occasion, right in the middle of the MLS season and push towards the playoffs, Toronto FC and Tigres held nothing back in their lineup selections. Greg Vanney trotted out the likes of Sebastian Giovinco, Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley. While the recognizable stars of Tigres, like Andre-Pierre Gignac and Eduardo Vargas, were on full display as well. It’s this type of star power that proves what type of potential this competition has.
Atlanta United seem eager to become the first MLS side to capture the Campeones Cup. Club President Darren Eales was kind enough to speak with Dirty South Soccer about their ambitious outlook on the match.
“For Atlanta United, this is the type of match we want to be in,” Eales said.
“It’s exciting. It’s a battle of champions. Club America are a very prestigious team, one of the biggest teams in Mexico. It’s going to be a great atmosphere in the stadium, so I think it’s going to be a fun occasion. For us, we want to win these types of trophies because that’s the type of club we want to be. Hopefully it will be another night of success for Atlanta United.”
Traditions have to start somewhere and perhaps 10 years from now we’ll look back and say how cool it was that Atlanta United played in the second-ever Campeones Cup. Or maybe it goes by the wayside and it’s never talked about again.
The idea of this competition is a great one. The execution is still very questionable. If a champion vs. champion event like this is to live on and become a staple in the calendar for both leagues, changes will need to be made. A compromise on the timing of the match will need to be made among other issues.
The downfalls of this particular edition of the Campeones Cup are obvious. The fixtures are piling up for Atlanta United and for a team that’s dealt with injuries all season long that’s always a concern.
Having lost 3 of its previous 5 matches with a thread bare squad, Atlanta United manager Frank de Boer told media ahead of his team’s match against Houston that he couldn’t afford to plan for the Campeones Cup.
“I’m not thinking of Club America right now, I’m thinking about Houston right now,” said de Boer ahead of a match his team would go on to win 5-0. “Then it’s going to be D.C. United. Every time we play in the next three days, this is how we are going to approach the next few days in training.”
However, pivotal attacking midfielder Ezequiel Barco and youngster George Bello are inching closer to the first team. Tito Villalba is ramping up his fitness work as the team hopes to progress him to working with a ball soon. There’s a sense around the team that things are improving physically as well as tactically, and the best is still ahead of them.
“It’s a prestigious game you know,” said de Boer. “It depends how we are at that moment, physically and mentally. Then you are going to approach the game, but we have to approach this second half from game to game.”
Hopefully roster restrictions within MLS will be addressed very soon in the new Collective Bargaining Agreement that will allow teams more freedom to better equip themselves for the rigors of a jam-packed fixture list. If these types of issues are eventually alleviated, there’s no reason that this competition can’t turn into something special.
For now, the match-up with Club America is very much another great opportunity for Atlanta United to show the world that they want to be a top club in not only North America but the world. They’ll have a national television audience and a top notch opponent that will surely bring a legion of fans to add to what should be a festive atmosphere. The idea of a new competition and trophy with no prestige may not get your juices flowing. But, the reality of a big match with two great clubs with tons of stars all over the field meeting on a big occasion should.