EDIT: I wrote this article in the lead up to the first leg of the 2014/2015 CONCACAF Champions League final, before Montreal marched into the sold out Azteca and amazingly scrapped a 1-1 draw against Club América. But tonight, as the Impact prepare to now host that same Goliath in front of 61,000 of their own fans, this article rings even more true. Give it a read — and be sure to tune in tonight on Fox Sports 2 at 8pm ET.
If you hadn’t noticed, we’re currently at a pretty busy point in the annual professional world soccer calendar.
The European leagues are wrapping up, with Champions soon to be crowned, those doomed to relegation set go down, and various promotion processes all around. The UEFA Champions League semifinalists will be set after today’s final quarterfinal match ups, and by June 6th we’ll know the Kings of Europe. Latin American leagues are now in full swing. International breaks sporadically dot the calendar too, offering friendlies and qualifiers alike.
And that’s just all of the stuff going down abroad. Domestically, the top three tiers of the American soccer pyramid are now in action. The fourth division will start within the next month. US Open Cup kicks off in the next few weeks, too. And for the most part, things are going really, really well. Average attendance is up in all three top leagues, expansion sides are making a huge splash, and TV viewership numbers are up as well. Plus, the USSF is actually paying attention to their own FA Cup for once — hooray!
But even with all of that progress, there’s still work to be done. Compared to the other “big four” sports leagues, attendance isn’t near as steady in our professional soccer leagues. And on the TV front, non-World Cup games still pale in comparison. All that considered, and it’s easy to say we’re clearly still in a transitional stage from fringe to popular sport.
So what am I getting at?
I’ve written before about how it’s on us — the American soccer fan — to drag this sport to where we want it to be. If we want American soccer to succeed, to gain mainstream acceptance, we need to do everything we can to promote the game to those who aren’t yet indoctrinated. Drag people to games in person and at pubs, promise them a beer if that’s what a takes.
And as it turns out, tonight is one of those nights where we need you to do some promotion with us.
If you hadn’t noticed, I left a pretty major tournament out of the list of competitions that are currently going on. That’s partially because there’s only two games left in it, but that doesn’t make the CONCACAF Champions League and it’s two-legged final between LigaMX’s Club América and MLS’ Impact Montreal any less important.
América, as many know, is a power of Mexican football and arguably the best team in North America right now, so their making it to the final isn’t that surprising. But Montreal are anything but a regional power, let alone a power in their own league. The team have only made the playoffs once in their short MLS history, though they’ve had some success in the domestic Canadian cup. And last year, they were probably the worst team in the league.
Yet here the Impact find themselves, on the cusp of potentially becoming the first ever CONCACAF Champions League — at least in its modern format — champion from the American/Canadian league. The last time a team even made it to the final of a North American club championship was in 2000 when the Galaxy won the old version of the tournament.
Much has been made of how MLS clubs have struggled in the competition, with many going as far as saying that the league remains irrelevant until its clubs are regularly competing for its silverware. Some claim the US/Canadian sides are indifferent to the competition, in much the way they’ve shown contempt for the Open Cup. And those arguments definitely hold some water.
But we as a fanbase haven’t exactly helped things with respect to the competition either.
Bad turnouts and even worse television ratings have told the clubs and league that we care even less about the CONCACAF Champions League than they do. Why should they care if we don’t?
Look, I really don’t care about the Impact as a team. But I do care a lot about MLS and club soccer, and how it’s perceived both abroad and at home. And if we want to be taken seriously here, our clubs need to not only be winning fans at home, but also showing well for ourselves to those watching from foreign shores. The CONCACAF Champions League, whose winner lands in the (also semi-)prestigious FIFA Club World Cup, is the best place for us to make that splash.
So tonight, at
9pm Eastern, Montreal head to a sold out Azteca in Mexico City 8pm Eastern on FOX Sports 2, Montreal host a mighty foe at a sold out Olympic Stadium that they’re quite likely to lose to. But even though their chances are slim — hell, they’ve made it this far, whose to say they can’t pull off another miracle? — we need to do our part and watch.
Send a message to MLS clubs, the league itself and the broadcasters by tuning in. Let them know that this tournament is important. Because it is.
If professional soccer is ever going to scale the heights we all want it to climb, even though we can’t really impact what’s going down on the field, we need to do our part in the metaphorical stands.
You might even like it.