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Why A New And Improved SuperLiga 2.0 Would Be Great For MLS Teams

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New England’s most revered continental tournament might be returning, and that’s a good thing if MLS clubs want to end LigaMX’s regional dominance.

SuperLiga 2010 - New England Revolution v Monarcas Morelia Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

There are several hills that Twitter Jake is willing to die on. Obvious things include Connecticut is part of New England, the Whalers are still the best team in the NHL, the Crayon Flag is the best logo in MLS, and the UConn Women’s basketball team is the greatest dynasty ever in sports.

But perhaps the oddest thing I constantly defend is the fact that the New England Revolution’s 2008 SuperLiga title is the greatest championship banner that resides at Gillette Stadium.

That’s right Tom Brady, I said it.

Five years ago, I wrote a column about why I love the SuperLiga amidst some minor rumors that perhaps it was coming back. The article detailed why it started and went away. Because when given the chance to talk about why the Revs are the best SuperLiga team of all time, of course I’m going to do that.

So naturally when any talk of bringing back my/our beloved SuperLiga, someone is going to mention it to me online. I want to thank the legend himself, Jim “@jimmystagger” Powers for this beaut of a tweet:

No not that one! Although that was pretty good, but get out of here Darth Hoodie, this isn’t about you...no, this tweet:

So, since I’ve already talked about the origins and demise of the first SuperLiga, I think it’s a good idea to talk about what format the return tournament should have, and, perhaps most importantly, why this will benefit MLS teams that participate in CCL.

According to reports from ESPNFC’s Tom Marshall (fantastic Mexico/LigaMX follow on Twitter by the way), Liga MX and MLS are looking to create an 8-team competition that takes place at some point during the second half of the year. This will not affect any of the teams in the CCL as their new format begins with a two-legged 16-team bracket that kicks off in Feburary with the two-match final occurring at the end of April.

Now, in the ESPN FC article, it mentions a heavy Western Conference presence from the MLS based teams and this would make sense if we included the next four MLS teams not in the CCL based on the 2018 Supporter’s Shield standings.

Atlanta United (MLS Cup Winners/2nd), New York Red Bulls (SS Winners/1st), Sporting Kansas City (2017 US Open Cup/4th), and Houston Dynamo (2018 US Open Cup/17th) are already in the CCL. By using UEFA Europa League is equal to SuperLiga 2.0 logic, those teams shouldn’t be playing in the second tier continental club competition because they’ve already played in the top version.

So that leaves the following group of eligible MLS teams for a hypothetical 2019 SuperLiga tournament based on SS standings: Seattle Sounders (4th), Los Angeles FC (5th), FC Dallas (6th), New York City FC (7th), and (Portland Timbers (8th/MLS Cup Runner Up). I have no problem with allocating one of the four MLS spots to the MLS Cup loser if they are not already in the CCL because I think getting to the tournament final is a big deal. If the CCL spots are mostly going to go to cup winners with one spot being saved for the regular season champ, it would be nice to flip the script and reward the the teams who were most consistent during the regular season. I’m aslo not against one spot going to the MLS Cup or even USOC runner up.

Also, no one around here likes NYCFC so let’s kick them out and go with the four West teams to keep things simple.

The same idea should apply to the four LigaMX teams. Let’s just grab the four highest teams from the aggregate table of the 2017 Apetura-2018 Clausura. Since Monterrey (1st), Toluca (2nd), UNAL (3rd), and Santos Laguna (8th) are in the CCL, we’ll go with the fourth through 7th teams, which are Club America, Morelia, Cruz Azul, and Leon.

Okay, so now comes the actual hard part which is figuring out the competition format. I’m not sure I like the idea of going straight to the knockout stages like the CCL is doing now since some teams would only get two continental games before bowing out of the competition. I prefer a group stage so at a minimum the MLS teams are going to get 3-4 games a year against different opponents.

Let’s put two US teams and two Mexico teams in each group and figure out how many group stage games we need. A home-away round robin would be six games and then you’d need some kind of semifinal/final playoff series. This means that the teams that make the finals are looking at somewhere between 8-10 games played depending on if there’s a single knockout or two-leg playoff series. That seems like a lot, so maybe just a single round robin, which means three group stage games. This would be followed by two-leg semifinals/final, which makes it a seven game tournament. That seems reasonable enough.

However, I have a different idea, one that will make this a true North American SuperLiga. It will feature 10 teams. The same four teams from the USA and Mexico that I’ve already talked about would be included, as well as the two Canadian MLS teams that aren’t in the CCL—in this case the Vancouver Whitecaps and Montreal Impact. Yes this ruins some travel plans by adding the two Canada teams, but there is a method to my madness that I will get to in a moment.

But before we get to that, I need to apologize to the fledgling Canadian Premier League that is starting this year. No, I did not forget you, but this is a MLS-LigaMX competition experiment for now, though I look forward to the CPL wreaking havoc in the Voyaguer’s Cup and one day perhaps seeing you in a CCL match-up. For now however, I’m not including the CPL as eligible teams for SuperLiga 2.0.

The 10-team format I have concocted is as follows: Two groups each comprising of two US teams, two Mexico teams, and one Canadian team. Single round robin group stage of four games, which somehow makes sure every team has at least one road game out of the country since the Canadian teams will likely have to play one game in each of the USA and Mexico. Top two teams from each group advance to a two-leg aggregate knockout round for the semis/final, making the maximum schedule headache eight games for the two teams in the finals. Perhaps starting this in May and ending in September gives the schedule makers enough time to space out the potential eight games in between the domestic USOC/VCup dates already planned.

So a potential SuperLiga 2.0 Group Pairing might look something like this:

2019 SuperLiga 2.0

2019 SuperLiga 2.0 Group A Group B
2019 SuperLiga 2.0 Group A Group B
USA 1 Seattle Los Angeles FC
USA 2 Portland Dallas FC
MEX 1 Cruz Azul Club America
MEX 2 Morelia Leon
CAN 1 Vancouver Montreal

Apologies if that looks odd in mobile format, but the groups are as follows: Group A consists of Seattle, Portland, Vancouver Morelia and Cruz Azul and Group B will have LAFC, Dallas, Montreal, Club America and Morelia face off. Yes, this is a test case and I may have rigged the draw to keep the Cascadia Cup intact. You know, for ratings.

In the big picture, the goal of the original SuperLiga was to improve the actual structure of the CCL and for the most part, that was achieved. I don’t love the elimination of the group play part of the bracket and fear SuperLiga 2.0 could also go towards just a big two-legged bracket but regardless of the format I want to see, it’s more important to get a second tournament on the books at this point.

Now the goal should be to make SuperLiga 2.0 what the Europa League is to the UEFA Champion’s League - a way for the second tier teams to improve and step up against teams in the top tier, both domestically and internationally. Eventually this tournament could become another way to make more money by having the top MLS/LigaMX teams face off which was the original SuperLiga never had a change at achieving but that would first need to make the CCL a money maker and I don’t think we’re there yet either, so there’s still a lot of work to be done off the field as well.

Overall, I think part of MLS’ struggles in the CCL comes down to the fact they simply don’t play enough continental games compared to LigaMX teams, who until this year, featured in Copa Libertadores against top South American club teams. If you don’t think that experience has benefited those LigaMX teams/players, especially because it’s is a far better tournament than the CCL probably ever will be, you’re crazy.

Scheduling aspects aside for CCL games, LigaMX no longer featuring in Libertadores is a detriment to the league and country because that experience is quite valuable. I’m actually sad that perhaps the main reason SuperLiga 2.0 has a chance to exist is likely because LigaMX’s schedule conflicts with Libertadores now and those non-CCL teams in LigaMX are still expecting to play in some kind of continental competition.

So again, the overall goal for SuperLiga 2.0 is to get some MLS teams more games against continental opponents, specifically Liga MX teams just like how the Europa League is a secondary competition to the UCL. Getting experience against more continental teams, especially from Mexico, as well as the experience from the overseas travel and congested schedule, should help prepare more MLS teams make the jump to the CCL when they qualify.

The teams and format can change however you want. For example, you can absolutely talk me into leveling out the number of MLS/LigaMX representatives by going to six Mexico clubs in the tourney. This would mean two groups of six with five games in the group stage with the top two advancing to the aggregate playoff semifinals.

If SuperLiga 2.0 becomes a real thing, we could have a CCL-SL version of the Campeones Cup, maybe even a double header with the MLS Cup-LigaMX winners We could even have a way for the SuperLiga 2.0 winners to qualify for the CCL like the Europa League winner qualifies for the UCL now. But I digress...

Getting back to my earlier point - Why do I think it is important to get the Canadian teams involved in SuperLiga 2.0? Since Canada only has one CCL spot, any way to get their country more games against top regional competition is a good thing. This way, no matter who the Canadian VCup Champ/CCL representative is, they’re always prepared to do damage in the CCL. If all three Canadian teams and eight US based MLS teams are playing continental soccer every season between the CCL and SuperLiga 2.0, that’s about half the league getting valuable experience. This will help close the gap on LigaMX’s stranglehold in club soccer in the region. And that gap is still massive.

Right now, LigaMX and Mexican clubs dominate the CONCACAF Champions League. In the ten years/tournaments of the CCL “Modern Era”, all ten tournaments have been won by Mexican clubs and seven of those finals have been all-Mexico affairs. Real Salt Lake remains the only US based team to make a final, doing so in 2010-11. Canada has had two finalists with the 2014-15 Montreal Impact and the 2018 Toronto FC.

Obligatory Frank Klopas GIF and RIP Total MLS reference here:

In the past four tournaments, every Canadian MLS team has gotten to at least the CCL semifinals, with Vancouver losing in the 2016-17 semis to UNAL rounding out the two finals runs. In fact, Canada’s lone CCL spot is ranked/seeded higher than all four US spots based on recent performance in the tournament.

In the last ten years, only five US based MLS teams have gotten to the semifinals: Seattle Sounders and LA Galaxy in 2012-13, FC Dallas in 2016-17, and NYRB in 2018 to go along with RSL’s run to the finals. That’s it, that’s the list. Also shout out to the 2008-09 Puerto Rico Islanders who were the first non-Mexico team in the Modern Era semis.

So yes, it’s important to get Canada two spots at the table every year in SuperLiga 2.0 because, quite frankly, they’re doing pretty good at this CCL thing already and should be given every chance to maintain that level of success in CCL competition. As for the US based teams who constantly feature at the top of the Supporter’s Shield Standings but are only rarely rewarded with a ticket to the CCL, this will give those teams a chance to hone their skills and get used to travel and games in continental play so that when the get to the Round of 16 of the CCL in Feburary during preseason, they’ll hopefully be more prepared. Maybe this won’t pay off in the short term with the CCL’s new format, but long term, the more continental games played and won by MLS teams, the better those US and Canadian teams will be as they play in more and more semifinals and championships.

Toronto FC’s vaunted Giovinco-Bradley-Altidore teams only really got one chance at CCL glory with the transition of formats between 2016-17 and 2018, but they made the most of it with a run to the finals. MLS teams that are consistently near the top of the MLS Supporter’s Shield standings, like Sporting KC, Portland, Seattle and FC Dallas, can’t all qualify for the CCL based on that consistency. But they can be rewarded with a trip to SuperLiga 2.0 and let their players gain experience for the years they do qualify for the CCL. A team like Atlanta United, who is really, really good, maybe doesn’t lay an egg in their first leg match in Costa Rica against Herediano if they had SuperLiga experience based on their 2017 expansion year where they finished 3rd in the East and SS.

Also, more games and competitions means more chances for players at the bottom of MLS rosters to get minutes, especially the young Homegrowns and draftees who might be getting most of their playing time on loan in the USL. Player development should be far more important in MLS than it is right now for some teams and getting more players more minutes in the long run is only a good thing. More games and competitions will also mean more roster spots, allocation money, etc., that go into building rosters and eventually mean overall higher salaries for players too. All things MLS needs to do to continue to grow as a league.

So yeah, the SuperLiga is awesome and a tremendously great idea and I hope it makes a comeback. But if you think that I or anyone in New England will ever stop reminding everyone else who the best OG SuperLiga team ever of all time is...well, you clearly don’t know me or us very well.

Because it doesn’t matter how many Super Bowl banners Darth Hoodie and the Golden Boy put up in Gillette Stadium.

It will never be as awesome as the 2008 SuperLiga title.