by Robert Jonas - Center Line Soccer
Week three matches of the CONCACAF Champions League group stage took place the past couple of days, and for the first time since the tournament moved to its current format in 2008, I missed every one of them. It wasn’t because I was distracted by the midweek clash between my hometown San Jose Earthquakes and the visiting Philadelphia Union. It didn’t happen because I was on vacation in some wonderful tropical paradise (writing about soccer pays for trips to In-and-Out instead). And it certainly wasn’t due to my cable television being on the fritz. No, the simple reason was that I was just not interested.
For the record, I watch every MLS game I can, whether it is in person, on television, or after the fact on the internet. I’ll stay in “radio silence” from hearing the results until I can catch those games I’ve missed even a day or two later. I’m enthralled by some match-ups and frustrated by others — but I make it a point to really understand the league that I love. That fervent following continues for MLS teams outside of the regular league schedule, especially for the latter rounds of the U.S. Open Cup. I even took in the majority of the Superliga matches this summer, and I was hopeful for a New England triumph in the final of that made for (Spanish language) TV tournament. So why have I bailed out on the CCL?
Simply, I have grown tired of the antics of the participating teams outside of MLS and the FMF. Even the teams from Mexico get a bit over-dramatic at times, but at least I am familiar with their style of play from Primera league television coverage here in the States. No, the real tragedy comes from watching Arabe Unido, Municipal, Marathon, and the other “minnows” flop around on the pitch like the little fishes their statures bear.
My loss of faith in the CCL is really unfortunate, because we are finally seeing the MLS teams in the mix represented by quality starting line-ups after many seasons of having their coaches throwing the club’s reserves to the wolves. No longer are trips south of the border and beyond by our domestic clubs mere exercises in padding the team frequent-flier mileage accounts. This season alone saw Real Salt Lake play as fascinating and entertaining match as I’ve seen all summer in a heartbreaking loss to Cruz Azul. The Columbus Crew nearly broke the Mexico curse in having a sure game-changing goal called back on a rough night in Torreon to Santos Laguna.
But I just can’t get past the disgraceful early matches so exemplified by the Real Salt Lake late-game victory over Arabe Unido in week one. I wanted to shower for an hour after the final whistle in an effort to wash the stench of the Panamanian performance off my body. I felt horrible for the Rio Tinto faithful who plucked down money at premium prices for such a farce. At least RSL earned all three points in that match, or some serious fan backlash would have erupted in quiet Sandy, Utah.
I know from experience watching the CCL in past years that occasionally a stinker of a match is going to test my patience, so I dismissed that one as my mulligan for the round and went into week two expecting better. Long story short, my attention had been damaged and it didn’t recover through a second week of matches.
So flash back to last Tuesday afternoon, and I set my DVR to record the Crew and Seattle Sounders matches back-to-back. Later that evening, with chores completed and my recreational league game finished, I sat down on the couch with a cold beverage and closed my finger down upon the “recorded TV” button on my remote control. Up pops the menu and I am one click away from a 3+ hour marathon of hopeful soccer bliss. And yet, I cannot make myself go through with it. I feared that Joe Public would desecrate the Crew Stadium pitch with antics similar to Arabe Unido in week one. I felt my faith shaken that Seattle could beat back Saprissa on their home field. And maybe the chance that a good adrenaline buzz from winning 3-2 earlier in the evening would be in danger of evaporating was holding me back. Whatever it was, I turned off the TV and retreated to my office to catch the scores on the internet. The Crew won and Seattle lost — pretty much the results that were expected — and I moved on to other news.
I awoke the next morning feeling relieved that I hadn’t stayed up into the wee hours watching the CCL the previous night. Where in the past I might have felt guilty at spoiling a potential match viewing opportunity by peeking at the final score online, I didn’t have a sense of being worried at all. In fact, it was quite liberating to jettison one of the many soccer watching commitments I held dear up to that point. I strongly believe that as an avid supporter of MLS, I owe it to myself and others to back the league’s teams in every competition. If I don’t step up and place expectations for success in these tournaments, who will? Can I defend MLS to its distracters if I’m not willingly to unequivocally back each and every one of the 16 teams no matter the quality of the competition?
Probably not, and I am okay with that. Maybe the responsible competition committee that governs the CCL will get the message if diehards like me stop paying attention and they’ll act to raise the standards of their tournament such that it does not continually disappoint. Whether it is the practices of the teams involved, the inconsistent level of the officiating, or the marketing efforts that go into promoting the matches in all participating countries — until meaningful progress is made, I’ll stick to watching domestic contests and the occasional MLS-FMF matchups exclusively.
The more I think of it, I feel better about my decision already. So, what time is the next Earthquakes game on?
Robert Jonas is a writer and podcaster at Center Line Soccer and a frequent contributor to CSRN’s Around The League MLS show. He can always be reached on his twitter @robertjonas.