The inaugural CONCACAF Champions League is now over after a short delay, due to swine flu. Atlante are the first evcer CCL Champions, and will be the region’s representative at this year’s FIFA Club World Cup. This was the club’s second continental title(first in Cancun), after winning the Champions Cup in 1983.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the event. Sure, it doesn’t come close to UEFA or CONMEBOL in the level of play or grandeur. However, it’s OUR region’s championship. It’s only gonna mean something if people care about it. I’ve heard that certain teams, especially Mexican and MLS teams didn’t take it seriously.

On the Mexican perspective, perhaps there was disinterest because of the level of competition. I don’t know if this is the case. Certainly the FMF as a whole is the best league in CONCACAF. While the Costa Rican league as a whole doesn’t match up with FMF, their top teams have the ability to compete with any Mexican club; as they have proven in past Champions Cups. Even if some FMF teams weren’t starting all their first squad, they still had 3 of 4 teams make the semifinals. Only Pumas didn’t make this round, and they were eliminated by fellow FMF club Cruz Azul, in the quarterfinals. Also, 3 of 4 were atop the tables in group play. Only Cruz Azul was bested there, by Honduran power Marathon. While, this isn’t a true barometer of the club’s ambition in this competition, it doesn’t exactly shout disinterest.

As for the MLS perspective, it was very disappointing. Sure, the same old script played out between Mexican and US based clubs. But even more disturbing was the way NE Revolution and Chivas USA were eliminated in the preliminary round. Joe Public of Trinidad absolutely hammered New England, winning 6 – 1 on aggregate, including a disgraceful 4 – 0 drubbing in New England. And Chivas USA didn’t put up much of a fight against FC Tauro of Panama (1-3 agg). Injuries did play a significant role, especially for DC United. Though consistently fielding what amounted to reserve teams and being in the so called group of death; only gaining 1 point in group play is an extreme letdown.

If anything, the onus is on MLS to field better squads and achieve more satisfying results. Certainly having an MLS team win the regional championship for the first time since 1998, would make it more interesting here in the States. And might make the title more meaningful to FMF clubs.

The new born tournament wasn’t without excitement and some great cindarella stories. Marathon went through the preliminary round, won their group and played in the quarterfinals. Both qualified USL – 1 teams made it to the last eight. It would have been two if not for yet another tragic last minute defeat to a Mexican club, as Impact imploded against Santos Laguna. Though the match displayed some sloppy defense, it was genuinely exciting.

And of course, Puerto Rico Islanders were the story of the tournament. They qualified by defeating San Juan Jabloteh of T & T,finishing 3rd in the CFU Club Championship. They went on to defeat Costa Rican legend CD Alajuelense. Then advanced out of their group, including a 3 – 1 victory over Santos Laguna at home. Colin Clark’s squad took care of Marathon in the quarterfinals and came oh so close to advancing to the finals. They lost in the semis to Cruz Azul. The match went to extra time. Both teams struck home in the added periods. Though Puerto Rico had scored more away goals; in the CCL, they don’t matter after regulation. With this rule, it was decided on Penalties, which Cruz Azul won 4 – 2.

Considering it was a first effort in the expanded preliminary and group stage format, it seemed a good start. While there were matches that were so lopsided as to be unwatchable, there were also several entertaining gems. At times, many stadiums seemed virtually empty, but these were on weekdays. Qualification is already underway for the second CCL.

2009/2010 CCL Qualified Teams

US: Columbus Crew, Houston Dynamo, DC United NY Red Bulls

Mexico: Toluca, Cruz Azul (2 spots open)

Canada: (1 spot open)

Hounduras: Marthon, Real Espana, Olimpia

Costa Rica: Deportivo Saprissa, (1 spot open)

El Salvador: Isidro Metapan, (1 spot open)

Guatemala: Comunicaiones, (1 spot open)

Panama: Arabe Unido, (1 spot open)

Nicaragua: (1 spot open)

CFU: W Connection (T&T), Puerto Rico Islanders (PR – USL1), San Juan Jabloteh (T&T)

So we already know 16 out of the 24 participating clubs. With the Central American seasons coming to a close, the rest of the field should fill out shortly. Many of the teams will be entering for the second year in a row, but there are several new faces.  Belize has been taken off the docket for this competition, because of poor stadium conditions.  For now, this spot has been awarded to Honduras, giving them 3 teams.

The Nutrilite Canadian Championship is already underway, with Toronto FC posting a pair of 1 – 0 victories over their USL1 counterparts. The CFU Championship just finished, with W Connection defeating Puerto Rico in the finals, both advancing. San Juan Jabloteh dispatched Haitian side Tempete FC, to claim the 3rd and final Caribbean spot.

There has been some talk about reallocating an MLS spot.  I personally don’t see this as necessary.  If you look at the quarterfinals, there was 4 Mexican teams, 1 MLS team, 2 USL1 teams and a Honduran club.   Honduras has already been taken care of.  Mexico has 4 spots and the US based leagues had 3.  The only scenario that seems to make sense, would be either granting the FMF one MLS slot, or having a playoff between these leagues for the final position. Personally, I think 4 is enough for FMF, after all this is a CONCACAF competition.  With 3 semifinalits, any more would make it seem like a Mexican tournament.

The preliminary round is set to begin in late July, with the group stage kicking off towards the end of August. Hopefully the CCL will only continue to grow and be sought after passionately by all CONCACAF teams. Let’s hope for a little more diversity in the final four teams. UEFA constantly has an influx of English teams at the end, it’s appearing like CONCACAF may be no different with Mexican squads.

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