Last week, Sporting Kansas City took down Mexican side Cruz Azul 1-0 in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals.
That result, in a tournament that can be a mouthful to say, was a very big one for Kansas City. There were many fans who knew that the game was important (another sellout crowd at Sporting Park).
But there are others out there — fans with a lower "American Soccer Minutiae IQ" (or ASMIQ) or potential new soccer fans — who have trouble navigating the acronym soup and general confusing nature of in-season competitions that stretch across two seasons. In fact, I've been asked to explain the situation a few times over the last week.
The second leg, which is Wednesday at 9 p.m. (Fox Sports 2), will decide which team moves on to the Champions League semifinals next month.
To get you up to speed and maybe help fill in some of the blanks you might have about the CONCACAF Champions League, here's a Q that hopefully helps (or at least entertains and explains).What does CONCACAF even mean?
Good idea, let's get the really confusing part out of the way first.
Basically, it's an acronym that stands for Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football and is part of FIFA — which is an acronym for Federation Internationale de Football Association or International Federation of Association Football.*In America, we should really call it IFAF!
Are you curious about some sordid CONCACAF gossip?Of course.
FIFA's former vice-president is Jack Warner. He's from Trinidad and presided over CONCACAF for a long time. He also very probably almost assuredlyaccepted millions of dollars from a Qatari firm to help rig Qatar's 2022 World Cup bid
.Will that have an impact on the Champions League?
Not really. It's just interesting.It definitely is. But, back to the Champions League. What, exactly, is it?
Right. Back to the task at hand. The Champions League is, well, exactly what it sounds like. A "league" of "champions." It isn't a friendly or exhibition match. It's a real competition with an actual trophy and bragging rights to go along with it.
The tournament pits the best clubs across a federation against each other in direct competition. Every federation (there are six federations comprising FIFA) has one. The most famous, for obvious reasons, is the UEFA Champions League. That's where you'll see Bayern Munich, Manchester United, Barcelona and Real Madrid play.
For CONCACAF, the Champions League includes the best teams from Mexico, Canada, the United States, Panama, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Jamaica, Trinidad Tobago (and others). It's called a "league" because, like the World Cup and other international soccer competitions, it starts with round-robin group stage.
The competition, in this hemisphere, has an awkward schedule. The group stage starts during the middle of the MLS season (August) and runs through November. The knockout stage (we are currently in this stage of the 2013-14 edition) starts in March and culminates in the championship game in April.Why the weird schedule?
1) It's in keeping with the schedule of Mexico's Liga MX — which is split into two tournaments, one in the summer (aperture) and one in the winter (clausura). Please don't make me explain that any further.
This is why you likely read last week that Cruz Auzl is already in midseason form.
2) At the end of the calendar year, the winners of each federation's Champions League will compete in the Club World Cup. So, staying on the European-schedule is just good for everyone involved (in Europe).How do teams qualify?
For North American teams, it requires winning a trophy (most of the time). The winners of the MLS Cup, the Supporters' Shield and the U.S. Open Cup get an automatic berth. For the Canadian teams, the winners of the Amway Canadian Championship will quality. A change for the 2014-15 means the team that finishes with the best regular season record in the conference opposite of the Supporters' Shield winner will get the league's third automatic spot.
So, that means Sporting Kansas City (MLS Cup), the New York Red Bulls (Supporters' Shield), D.C. United (Open Cup) and the Portland Timbers (best record in the Western Conference) have qualified. A Canadian team will be crowned later this year.How did Kansas City qualify for the 2013-14 version?
By winning the 2012 U.S. Open Cup.Is Kansas City the only MLS team in the competition?
No. The San Jose Earthquakes are still alive. Like Kansas City, they are traveling to Mexico for the second leg of the quarterfinals and will face Toluca on Wednesday at 7 p.m. (the teams tied 1-1 last week).
The Los Angeles Galaxy lost to Tijuana in a crazy game on Tuesday night that ended 4-2 (4-3 on aggregate). Tijuana will face the winner of Kansas City and Cruz Azul.Ok. I think I have the basics. So, these games are important, right?
If you consider competition against the best teams in your corner of the world and a chance to compete against the best teams in the world "important," then the answer is yes.What does the game on Wednesday mean for Sporting Kansas City?
Typically, MLS teams haven't traditionally had a lot of success in federation tournaments. In the Champions League-era (2008-present), only one MLS team has reached the finals: Real Salt Lake in 2010. Before that, under various formats, D.C. United and the Los Angeles Galaxy won the Champions Cup in 1998 and 2000 (respectively).
Usually, the Mexicans take the competition fairly lightly until the final rounds. That's been changing, slowly, the last few years. After the first games (all played in the United States), the MLS sides (Los Angeles, San Jose and Kansas City) went 2-0-1 and allowed just one goal by a Mexican team (Toluca vs. San Jose).
Cruz Azul and Tijuana played mostly first-choice teams.
American soccer supporters often use these match-ups as a way to either gauge the ascent or stumblings of American soccer — depending on said supporters view of Major League Soccer's quality.
Kansas City, as the Wizards, actually reached the semi-finals in 2002 — beating Mexican club Santos Laguna in a two-leg series to get there.What would be a "positive" result?
Since Kansas City won the first leg — and kept Cruz Azul scoreless — KC enters the second-leg with a one-goal aggregate lead. Basically, we are at half-time of a 180-minute game.
This tournament uses away goals as the first tiebreaker. Which makes scoring a goal on the road super important.
Here's the breakdown: A win or a draw (of any kind) would see Kansas City through. Which is easy. Here's the complicated part: Kansas City can survive to the semifinals even with a loss.
Should KC lose 1-0, the game would go to extra time and then, potentially, a shootout. (Sort of like the MLS Cup final.)
Even a 2-1 loss would be all right. Since it means KC would've picked up a goal in Mexico and own the first tiebreaker. (The series would end, technically, in a 2-2 draw with KC's away goal breaking the deadlock.)
However, anything worse than that — any multi-goal loss — would be devastating.Can KC get a positive result?
Kansas City won't surprise Cruz Azul this time around andmust reverse some nasty history in knockout matches in Mexico
But, as Kansas City showed last year in the MLS playoffs, it has the defensive chops and just enough offense to pull off big results away from home. They've just never had to do it in Mexico.