Friday, October 06, 2006

Preparations for CONCACAF Champions Cup

Ok, so lets break this down. DC United have already qualified for the CONCACAF Champions Cup tournament next year. As published in the Washington Post, CONCACAF plan on having DC United play the first of their two open matches around February 20th. Assuming that CONCACAF deal United with a home match first, as they seem to always be doing with MLS clubs, that is gonna be one cold match to attend, but I will be there. More importantly, that match is scheduled to take place about 5 weeks before the normal start of the MLS schedule. So how does United get ready for this?

DC United have already announced that they are looking at gathering the troops early and training someplace warm, in preparations for their first match. Playing keep away and taking shots on your own goalkeeper is fine to get the heart pumping and begin the long road back to fitness, but three weeks of running drills on a Florida soccer field just doesn’t compare to 90 minutes of actual play. Because of this, I have a plan.

MLS Florida/Arizona/California Cup
MLS needs to start getting more involved with the club support for the CONCACAF Champions Cup matches. A huge way it can do that is by organizing a small, 4 team tournament in either Florida or Arizona or Southern California. They could even organize two different ones, held in two different locations in the US. The general idea is to have the two MLS clubs that have entries in the CONCACAF Champions Cup tournament play against two other foreign clubs. The tournament could be held the week of January 15th through the 20th. Those two foreign clubs can come from anywhere, but my first suggestion would be to invite one Argentinean club and one Brazilian club. Both leagues are out of their league season at the time frame I am looking at. The Argentina Primera Division runs from February to June, so they would most likely welcome a chance to play two matches against competitive clubs, especially ones that are not in their own league. The Campeonato Brasileiro doesn’t start until April, similar to MLS, so they will be out of season as well.

The biggest factor for these two sides possibly being interested in this idea is that MLS should invite clubs that will be taking part in the Copa Libertadores. I suggest clubs from that tournament as is has its first qualifying round start around the 26th of January. As both leagues do not kick off before the start of the Copa Libertadores, they will be looking for chances to get in competitive matches, without really running the risk of injury or dealing with clubs that are also taking part in the Copa Libertadores. This min-tournament would be beneficial to all sides involved.

The first idea would be to hold the tournament in Someplace like Miami or Orlando, Florida. Have DC United, River Plate (Argentina), Gremio (Brazil), and FC Dallas (or whomever gets the second MLS CONCACAF slot) all take part in the tournament. Have the two MLS clubs face the two South American clubs, such as DC United vs. River Plate and FC Dallas vs. Gremio, on the 16th. Then on the 19th, have DC United vs. Gremio and FC Dallas vs. River Plate. This way you avoid having the two MLS clubs face each other as well as having the two Copa Libertadores clubs face each other. All of the clubs would get two matches under their belts, and be in better shape for their tournaments.

The second idea would be to hold two of these tournaments. One of these tournaments can take place in Florida, with a non-CONCACAF Champions Cup participating Mexican club taking the place of one of the MLS clubs. That way you still get the four total matches, yet still keep the Copa Libertadores clubs from facing each other. With two tournaments, you could actually invite clubs from more South American countries to travel to the US, instead of just having Brazilian or Argentinean clubs.

Have the second tournament in either Arizona or Southern California, with the other MLS club matching up against three other Copa Libertadores clubs. For example, you could have the Houston Dynamo (or whomever gets the second MLS CONCACAF slot), Atlético Nacional (Columbia), Universidad Catolica (Chile), and PUMAS (Mexico). The tournament could then have FC Dallas vs. Universidad Catolica and PUMAS vs. Atlético Nacional on the 17th and then have FC Dallas vs. Atlético Nacional and PUMAS vs. Universidad Catolica on the 21st. Have these matches staggered with the matches that are taking place in Florida and all could be presented on any of the US soccer channels, such as Fox Soccer Channel or Gol TV.

A tournament like this would work well to strengthen ties between MLS, USSF and COMNEBOL as well as the Mexican Premier Division. Through these increased ties, we all might be able to see changes happen earlier in regards to including MLS clubs in the Copa Libertadores. A relationship like this would be beneficial to all parties involved.

Now for February
As we have the CONCACAF Champions Cup kicking off for MLS clubs in the end of February, a January tournament will be great to get guys into shape, but there would still be about a month in between the second match of each tournament and the first match in the CONCACAF Champions Cup. A lot can happen in a month, guys can break ankles and discover that they love Ben & Jerry’s. With that I recommend a second series of matches, this time only including the two MLS clubs along with two foreign clubs. You have DC United, Chicago Fire (or whomever gets the second MLS CONCACAF slot), Vasco da Gama (Brazil) and Nacional FC (Paraguay) all participating. Whomever MLS chose to invite, I suggest that they invite clubs that are not participating in the Copa Libertadores, thus will not have scheduling conflicts during this time.

Have this tournament take place between the 5th through the 11th of February in Southern California, primarily Home Depot Center. For this tournament, have each team play each other. As much a bore it is for MLS fans to imagine yet another MLS vs. MLS match, at this point, having the two MLS clubs play each other would be beneficial, so that they can both get as many matches underneath their belts as possible. Have the first two matches played on the 5th, the second two played on the 8th and the last two on the 11th. The idea would be to get 90 minute in, and to rotate the players in so that all of them get some playing time. The tournament would finish a week and a half before the first CONCACAF matches and the two South American clubs would be in better shape for the start of their seasons.

If any types of these ideas are put into practice, I believe that we would definitely see a much greater improvement in the performances of the MLS clubs in the CONCACAF Champions Cup tournament. Getting our clubs better pre-tournament practice in, while the MLS league season starts after the tournament, is imperative for a successful result for all of MLS.


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