One of the most significant events in the history of Major League Soccer takes place Tuesday with the inaugural match of the Superliga, an event that very well could replace the ill-timed and poorly conducted CONCACAF Champions Cup as the club championship of the North America region.
Superliga is viewed by some as a blatant money grab by MLS and the Mexican Primera League, but the bottom line is the event is being played for some serious prize money and could bring considerable prestige to Major League Soccer if an MLS club wins the competition. That is easier said than done: MLS has not one a major international competition since 2000, and an MLS club has not defeated a Mexican club in an international competition since 1998. But in this year’s CONCACAF Champions Cup both Houston and DC United took Pachuca and Chivas to the brink in the semifinals and both showed an ability to compete hard score goals on Mexican soil, something that continues to elude the US National Team when it travels to Mexico.
This season’s Superliga is very much experimental. In future years, we will likely see home and away matches in the group stages as well as a merit based qualification from both leagues. This year the LA Galaxy one of the weakest MLS sides was included because of David Beckham (who ironically could miss Superliga with an injury) and Morelia because they are owned by TV Azteca who owns the broadcast rights for the matches in Mexico.
Let’s take a closer look at the teams competing in Superliga.
1- DC United
United is according to Paul Gardner, the dean of American soccer writers, “the most Latin oriented team in the league and by no coincidence its most successful.” (World Soccer, April 2007). This Latin orientation and overall quality of the squad means United is likely the only MLS based team that will advance to the knock out stages of the event. Luciano Emilio is the best finisher in MLS, and Christian Gomez is the league’s best playmaker. Look for Fred and Jaime Moreno to also provide potent attacking skill. The backline is a bit of mess, but the recent addition of Greg Vanney a former US national team player with several years of club experience in Europe should help DC advance. One liability is Troy Perkins who since a remarkable gaffe that cost DC United a chance to defeat Chivas in the CONCACAF Champions Cup has been indecisive in goal and generally a mess.
2- Club America
Nelson Cuevas is a special player, and the US learned first hand at Copa America. Cuevas has scored three goals in the World Cup and helps to stimulate the America attack. Fellow Paraguay International Salvador Cabanas is also a potent player going forward. The loss of Cuauhtémoc Blanco to the Chicago Fire hurts America’s fans more than the club who wisely brought in Hernán Rodrigo López and Lucas Castroman to fill the void left by Blanco whose number 10 has been retired by the club for the next five years.
3- Houston Dynamo
The Dynamo have deepened the squad with the recent acquisitions of Nate Jaqua and Joseph Ngwenya. However the key to Houston remains Dwayne DeRosario in the attacking midfield role. Brian Ching and Stuart Holden will also be threats going forward, while Eddie Robinson anchors a very solid defense. Ricardo Clark maybe spent after a busy summer of US National Team duty but he will be a key for Houston as will solid keeper Pat Onstad, the best between the posts in MLS.
Thanks to Monarcas being owned by TV Azteca, Mexico’s second largest TV network who has the broadcast rights to the Superliga, they have been included in this tournament. Moreila have some decent players such as Luis Angel Landin who was a key member of Pachuca’s “treble” winner squad last season, but not enough to do much in this brutal group.
Pachuca enter the Superliga as the clear favorites. Pachuca’s reliance on players who did not feature in Copa America should help steer them through this group without dropping points and probably means they will win the title. Andrés Chitiva who has been a staple in the midfield of Pachuca’s title run this decade will be a handful for all MLS clubs. Fausto Pinto, the best young defender in Mexico, may not be available for the beginning of the competition after playing regularly at Copa America for El Tri. Damian Àlvarez was an integral part of all of Pachuca’s success last season, winning three major trophies and he will be a creative force in the midfield. Keep an eye on Christian Gimenez as well.
2- Chivas (Guadlajara)
Chivas has had the least turnover of any major Mexican club, and as usual they have a host of superb players. Francisco Rodriguez and new signing Omar Arellano should spark a capable attack. Arellano played well last season for Pachuca and will link up well with sparkplug Omar Bravo to lead Chivas to the knock out rounds of the event.
3- FC Dallas
Juan Toja has quite possibly been the best player in MLS this season, and with Carlos Ruiz up top FCD is always potent going forward. Pablo Richetti is another strong newcomer but the Hoops will miss injured Kenny Cooper. The back line continues to be a mess with the exception of Drew Moor. FCD will score goals, even if they come from Dominic Odouro and Abe Thompson but is too weak in defense to be taken seriously as potential champion of this event.
4- Los Angeles Galaxy
The Galaxy’s inclusion in this event is a joke which hurts the credibility of the competition. Next year MLS will select its participants on a merit based system so Golden Balls and the Galaxy won’t be making a return trip. I will personally be stunned if the Galaxy manage a single point from this event, especially with Beckham banged up.