Editor's Note: CONCACAF hipster Jon Arnold brings Goal readers stories and opinions from around the region in a weekly column.
Media members too often look to war or fighting sports for their metaphors. We'll avoid that trope this week, as the MLS teams in Central America showed no fighting spirit.
The Portland Timbers didn't battle Olimpia. Sporting Kansas City didn't tussle with Saprissa. They were outplayed in their defeats as they crashed out of the CONCACAF Champions League.
To some, that's OK. The Timbers needed a win Saturday to get into the MLS playoffs (they got the win but still missed the playoffs thanks to a Vancouver victory) and Sporting had a Sunday match with New York that could've improved its seeding (it lost to the Red Bulls). Clearly, the timing of the matches was hardly ideal, and some teams simply don't prioritize the CCL.
But both nights also showed the potential that the competition has. It wasn't just the raucous crowds in Tegucigalpa and San Jose, it was Alajuelense's heroic draw in front of its own fans that knocked out reigning champion Cruz Azul, and D.C. United taking maximum points and the top seed despite having to show its depth to do so, and Edder Delgado's double that kept Pachuca from the top spot in a match otherwise free of importance.
The Timbers' sad showing prompted the club's owner, Meritt Paulson, to take to Twitter and tell off the account of a Timbers supporters' group questioning the team's showing. That, unsurprisingly, didn't last long, but what did was Paulson defending the club's approach to the competition.
But to suggest we didnt care about and prioritize CCL is just flat out wrong. Was very much a priority for the club.— Merritt Paulson (@MerrittPaulson) October 22, 2014
That's fair enough, but there's no doubt the team didn't make it one of its top priorities. Sporting Kansas City was handed a tougher draw than Portland, but also didn't always field its strongest XI. MLS teams won't want to miss the playoffs on account of the CCL, and will continue resting players against teams they think they can beat with reserves. Sure, it was a priority, but there are lots of priorities. CCL wasn't close enough to the top of that list for Portland or SKC.
One person who is putting up a fight in regards to the CONCACAF Champions League is NASL commissioner Bill Peterson – except he seems to be wearing boxing gloves to a judo competition.
"We have started to have conversations asking the question, 'Why not us? Why can't our champions have a direct entry?' I would argue we have got the third strongest league in CONCACAF behind Liga MX and MLS," he told Reuters.
There's not really any debate that an English Championship or Spanish Segunda side could beat champions from places like Moldova and Gibraltar, which have Champions League entries. The idea is to pit champions from all over a region against each other and see how the regions stack up. Peterson's clubs also already have a pathway to the CCL through the U.S. Open Cup (Peterson also completely ignores Costa Rica, but we'll let that slide for now).
But while his logic doesn't quite hold up, Peterson's desire shows that the CONCACAF Champions League can be something which teams and leagues can aspire to. MLS would love to see one of its remaining teams come out on top and become the first non-Mexican champion since the format was installed in 2008, as would the Costa Rican league, which placed three teams in the quarterfinals.
And until that Mexican stronghold is broken, Liga MX will pay little mind to the tournament before the final stages. Some teams are beginning to field stronger sides, but they won't be drawn into full-on Champions League war until a real threat emerges.
CONCACAF Champions League isn't going to become as big as the UEFA Champions League in one iteration - and there are always going to be different perspectives on how seriously to take the tournament. That happens in soccer, and it's OK. For the league offices of MLS, NASL and Central American teams, it represents a chance to be taken seriously on the global stage. For Liga MX, it doesn't take precedence until a serious challenger arises. For some teams, it's the most important battle they'll fight all season, and others won't answer the bell.
USA women take crown - The U.S. women rolled through the CONCACAF women's championship without truly being challenged and won the final match 6-0. They'll be joined at the World Cup by runner-up Costa Rica and third-place Mexico. Fourth-place Trinidad and Tobago will have a two-legged playoff against Ecaudor with the first leg taking place Nov. 8 and the second Dec. 2.
The United States will be happy it avoided upset in the tournament, but a team which prides itself on dominance knows it must prove it in the 2015 World Cup in Canada.
Costa Rica coasting - Speaking of Costa Rica, it's hard to imagine a better year for the country from a soccer standpoint. The women made it through the group stage undefeated and seemed to be the second best side in the tournament even though it needed penalties to secure qualification. It comes on the heels of the men's superb World Cup in Brazil, their friendly victories in Asia, and in the same week that saw three Costa Rican teams clinch passage to the CCL quarterfinals.
Costa Rica doesn't even have three automatic berths into the continental championship but was the beneficiary of Belize being stripped of its spot. Saprissa, Herediano and Alajuelense are the latest reasons to believe that the Ticos aren't just challenging the Mexico-United States duopoly when it comes to soccer in the region. Costa Rica is right there as one of the region's powers.