Brent Latham: CONCACAF's version of the Champions League deserves more local attention

With both the UEFA and CONCACAF versions of the Champions League taking place within a week of each other, the diminished support for the CCL was apparent.

Monterrey claimed its second straight CONCACAF Champions League title Wednesday night in a hotly disputed match in Torreon. It was a terrific matchup of two clubs worthy of a championship, decided in the closing minutes on a brave goal by the visitors against the run of play. But amidst the sensation of a different Champions League involving two worldwide favorites over in Europe, how many fans outside the northern region of Mexico even noticed?

On Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons, across the country and throughout the region, soccer-crazed fans flocked to televisions to watch the European version of the Champions League. Work stopped, bars filled up, and fans from Tijuana to Tapachula donned their Barcelona or Real Madrid jerseys, screaming about “Hala Madrid” or “Visca Barca.”

With those fan favorites duly eliminated by Wednesday night, much of the region’s footballing interest was spent. That’s a shame, because in this confederation’s championship match, Monterrey and Santos provided a better game of soccer than either Champions League semifinal in Europe.

Those who did pay attention will have noticed that CONCACAF soccer -- Mexican football specifically -- provides something that European competition rarely does at the highest levels: evenly matched opponents and outcomes that are truly up in the air until the final whistle blows.

On the evidence of this week’s results in Europe it will be argued that nothing is certain there either, but the ousters of Barcelona and Madrid actually provide even more evidence that the highest levels of European club play will seldom be as entertaining as the CONCACAF version. Only by sitting back and defending tooth and nail for hours could Chelsea, a European giant itself, have a chance to defeat mighty Barcelona. Bayern’s effort against Madrid was significantly better, but the superior team through 210 minutes was relatively clear, and it won’t be playing the final.

Through two legs in Monterrey and Torreon, on the other hand, there was very little to separate CONCACAF’s best. Much of that parity comes from the level in the LMF, and the familiarity of the teams with each other. But it’s also Mexican football’s never-back-down attitude at work.

Even when it might be strategically advisable to do so, most Mexican clubs will refuse to pack it in at the back. They should be commended. When it comes down to it, Mexican teams aren’t afraid to attack, and that almost always results in an agreeable spectacle.

That was the case again Wednesday night with no less than a trip to the FIFA Club World Cup on the line. Monterrey could easily have sat back and defended its first leg advantage, as just about any team in Europe would have done against a highly competent attack like that of Santos. Instead the Rayados came out and played tu a tu, and were justly rewarded with a late goal despite the home team’s dominance on the night.

Los Guerreros are becoming accustomed to playing the bridesmaid’s role Cruz Azul-style, a label which they’ll hope to shed as soon as next month when the Clausura comes to a close. But that’s a story for another time, as are Monterrey’s chances of improving on the tepid performance in last year’s Club World Cup.

For now, let’s note that the ever-aggressive approach in Mexican soccer adds up to a great show more often than not, and gives fans who are paying attention their money’s worth. So the coincidental timing of the CCL and UCL games this week gives us a chance to ask why more fans aren’t. 

Sadly, no matter the answer, the truth is it’s not likely to change soon. There’s no arguing that the better players, if not better soccer, are to be found in Europe. And in the age of worldwide news and internet, there’s little way to coax attention back to events in our own backyard, even if the federation had the marketing presence and wherewithal to compete with UEFA.

Of course as long as the later CCL rounds remain an all-Mexican affair, interest will continue to be fleeting elsewhere. The potential of a nation versus nation theme is much more marketable than yet another duel between Mexican clubs. But even when Real Salt Lake reached the final in 2011, interest in the tournament region-wide was still a shadow of that for Europe’s club competition.

In the meantime, outnumbered fans of CONCACAF’s regional soccer showcase will have to continue to make due with a distant second place to whatever's going on in Europe. Those who watch the CCL can at least enjoy the competitiveness of the later stages -- by some standards, significantly better viewing than those across the pond.