Friday, April 8, 2011

Europa League Still Tops Champions League Competitively

Portugal could have 3 of the Final 4

One of my favorite topics is this esoteric argument of the Champions League vs. the Europa League. I've written before that while yes the talent and glamour of the Champions League outclasses the former UEFA Cup, I say the level of competition is better in the Europa League.

Now that we're one round in for the quarterfinals of each competition, I think it would be fun to analyze whether my theory is on point. Amazingly, the score lines of the two sets of four matches from each competition are almost equal; three blowouts in each and one tight match. In the Champions League, the semifinalists are essentially set and they're quite tasty: Real Madrid, Barcelona, Manchester United and Schalke. Lots of juicy storylines there.

The final four draw could pit the two Spaniards in a Classico for the ages. You could have Raul taking on the club where his heart, legacy and legend lives in Real Madrid. United against either of the Spanish teams pits two of Europe's top three against each other; Mourinho vs. SAF? Wow.

In the Europa League, the obvious story line is the Portuguese trio of Benfica, F.C. Porto and Braga still alive and in line to make up three-fourths of the final four. Ultimately, a Benfica-Porto final would be surreal. These two teams score goals by the bushel. They hate each other. Their fans hate each other. Porto is quickly displacing Benfica as Portugal's top team. Benfica's glory days are close to 50 years gone-by despite more than 30 domestic titles. Porto has won two European Cups and one UEFA Cup since Benfica last won anything continental. And then there's upstart Braga which is close to usurping Sporting as Portugal's third member of the country's Big 3. Braga got a positive result in Russia yesterday and is close to a semifinal date with Benfica. And then there's Villareal of Capdevilla and Jozy Altidore fame. They score in bunches too and will make for a great Portugal-Spain semifinal against Porto.

Clearly the winner here is: wait for it -- the fans of course. Granted the next leg of both competitions' quarterfinals are going to be dreadful lock-down affairs as the teams in front are going to put 11 behind the ball and play for survival's sake. Looking ahead, however, I'm going to stick with my premise that competitively, the Europa League is a better show right now.

The Champions League is absolutely the hot sexy chick in the room, but I bet we get more open, competitive games in the Europa League final four than we do from the Wednesday Wonderland of games!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

LeBron Takes His Talents to Anfield;
Acquires Minority Share of Liverpool

LeBron's New Team.
So LeBron James is a minority owner of Liverpool FC this morning. Well yippe-kai-yay. Hey LeBron, can you find Liverpool on a map? (Hint: It's in England--over there, no higher. North. No, that's south).

The nuts and bolts of the deal are that Fenway Sports Group, i.e., the Boston Red Sox, and LeBron's marketing firm LRMR negotiated a deal where Fenway will rep LeBron. In exchange, this expands the King James brand into Europe and aligns the Red Sox, Liverpool and LeBron whenever convenient. Ho-hum.

This is clearly a marriage of convenience. LeBron's brand is probably stronger overseas than it is here. He's still stinging from "The Decision" and his choice to create some sort of superteam with the Miami Heat, manipulating the arrival of Chris Bosh, as well as his own, to join Dwayne Wade. Remains to be seen if the experiment is going to pay off for the Heat, but LeBron is definitely not regarded as the game's ambassador here. He's made some awkward, questionable decisions and most importantly--has yet to win ANYTHING.

I think this one is all splash and no substance. You'll see LeBron at Anfield for sure in the near future and peddling swag worldwide. Maybe he can convince King Kenny to build a superteam at Liverpool! Ronaldo, Messi and Iniesta! Sure. Why not?

He's King James.

Friday, April 1, 2011

MLS, Primera Division de Mexico to Merge; More than Half of MLS Clubs to Contract

Sources, yes I have sources, have told me in confidence that Major League Soccer will announce on Nov. 1 that it will merge with the Primera Division de Mexico and will contract more than half of its current 18 teams. The newly formed continental league does not have a name yet, but is the first salvo in a planned marketing war against Europe's top leagues. Europe has long promised to break off its top teams and form a SuperLeague. This is the thinking behind the Primera-MLS merger.

The Mexican league is apparently in deep financial trouble, something that's about to be made public in the coming weeks. It's trying to reach out the U.S. in order to tap the fledgling soccer market here, in particular on the West Coast and in the southern states. The Primera also promises to invest in U.S. player development camps, a la the academies that most of Europe's top clubs sponsor and support. The hopes are that the U.S. financial resources combined with Mexico's established football training philosophies will groom future stars not only for the new continental league, but for two countries' respective national teams.

The contraction decisions have not been made final by MLS or the affected clubs. The hope is that the clubs that are not invited to the newly formed continental league would form a second division of sorts. This gives legs to the notion that there may be relegation and promotion battles, and the elimination of MLS-style playoffs. The continental league would play on the world's football calendar and strictly adhere to FIFA rules and bylaws, especially with regard to stadia, pitches and other issues.

So the big question, I guess, is which teams would be contracted. I have seen an unofficial list and by the names on the list, I'm assuming these are the surviving teams:

  1. LA Galaxy
  2. Houston Dynamo
  3. FC Dallas
  4. San Jose Earthquakes
  5. Seattle Sounders
  6. New England Revolution
  7. NY Red Bulls
  8. DC United
  9. Real Salt Lake
  10. Columbus Crew

Obviously, none of the Canadian teams made the cut, nor did expansion Portland and Philadelphia. Can't wait to see how this shakes out. Stay tuned; I'm waiting on a couple of phone calls this afternoon and hopefully more details.