The era of “Trophies, not Friendlies” has been over at Real Salt Lake for a matter of years, but on Wednesday, the final nail was hammered into the coffin with the announcement of the miserably named Leagues Cup.
I don’t mean to imply that this approach guarantees no trophies — I actually don’t think it will have a substantive impact. The Supporters Shield is moving out of reach already (OK, not literally, but good grief, 2.27 points per game for LAFC so far? It’s insanity) and the 2019 playoff changes may have a pretty substantial impact on our chances there. Or they may not. I think it’s way too early to say.
But that strategy — maybe it was partly a branding exercise — was basically done when the club announced friendlies against bigger-name European and Mexican teams. We’ve played Inter Milan, Club America, Manchester United and Eintracht Frankfurt in the last three years. It’s clear friendlies are significant part of our strategy moving forward. That’s not controversial in MLS, though it used to be for us.
But our involvement in this tournament, which could add up to three exhibition matches under the guise of a cross-league trophy, amounts to little more than a way to sell tickets and TV rights — it’s basically an extension of Soccer United Marketing, the marketing arm Major League Soccer and the subject of a huge number of baseless conspiracies. Whatever you think of that mission, it’s not hard to see this as a competition that’s born of non-sporting concerns. I guess you could also argue that sporting concerns are a myth and that they mostly exist for marketing, too. Do that if you want.
Anyway, here’s why I’m not invested in this from the outset.
MLS teams were “invited” to play
After a string of poor season, Real Salt Lake was given the apparent privilege of playing in this tournament for non-sporting reasons. Liga MX teams were “selected based on results in recent competitions” and MLS teams were “invited to compete.” It’s a bit of an odd one, really. Do we deserve to be in a meaningful competition? Well, we haven’t made CONCACAF Champions League for quite some time. That should be a higher priority goal, I think.
If you look around the league, I do start to wonder who was invited and didn’t accept. Atlanta United? Surely they could have had a big impact on viewership, and they could surely fill a stadium. Seattle Sounders? The same. LAFC? Toronto FC? New York Red Bulls? New York City FC?
Yeah, you get the idea. Teams with bigger fanbases and a broader reach aren’t involved, and that makes me wonder if this just sort of fell to us when few teams were really interested.
More games in a packed month
June sees Real Salt Lake play three MLS matches and one or two US Open Cup matches.
July sees five MLS matches, a potential US Open Cup match, and one Leagues Cup match.
August sees six MLS matches, two potential US Open Cup matches, and one potential Leagues Cup match. That’s up to nine matches from Aug. 3 to Aug. 31. That’s a game every three days. It’s unsustainable, and our squad isn’t built for it. Which...
Our squad isn’t built for this
The way our squad is currently constituted, I don’t think we have great odds to manage this tournament properly, even if the coaching staff gets everything perfectly right. The potential for things going wrong is simply too high.
That, for me, is mostly down to players who have spent too long injured over the last two years: Tony Beltran, Alex Horwath, Luke Mulholland and Marcelo Silva, in particular. I think that’s fine for normal conditions, but when you add in an extra exhibition match, and you add in the potential of US Open Cup matches, I think something simply must give.
I hope it’s the Leagues Cup.
Reform CONCACAF Champions League instead
OK, so I legitimately hate the three-team groups of CCL, and I hate the weird way MLS teams qualify. I’d much rather see efforts going into making Champions League a more robust competition that deserves attention, rather than creating something to extract it.
So ... what’s the best case here?
I hate to say this, but I think RSL should try not to win their first game in this tournament. The impact it could have on the season if we play several games or suffer key injuries would be hugely detrimental to our efforts to make the playoffs.
Or, you know, we could do what Houston Dynamo is doing.
Regarding the new Leagues Cup tournament: .@wclsoccer13 tells me @HoustonDynamo will more than likely use @RGVFC players for the team's july 24 match vs. @ClubAmerica. HOU will be in the midst of playing 15 games in 40 days at that time. @MLS, playoffs clearly take priority.— Lester Gretsch (@LesterDeportes) May 29, 2019
That doesn’t really match with what Pekte’s said about the tournament, and I’m aimlessly speculating that ownership has some expectations that we make a serious effort to compete, or maybe that Petke or RSL general manager Craig Waibel are passionate about it.
Then again, it could be that I’m taking Petke’s quote — “(I)t’s something that we are taking extremely seriously” — a bit too literally.
How about this weather we’ve been having, huh? It’s like we’re in the Bay Area, but we also have cool mountains. I’m a fan.
I’m also getting way too excited about the upcoming Star Trek: Picard series. Have you seen the teaser? You should watch it. Then we can end this thing.