Greg Lalas
Monday August 4th, 2008

Last week when the New England Revolution beat Atlante 1-0 in the SuperLiga semifinals, that noise you heard was the sound of the marketing execs in New York who cooked up this shindig banging their heads on their desks.

The result meant that the Revs would meet the Houston Dynamo to decide the champion. In other words, Tuesday's final (8 p.m. ET, TeleFutura) is an all-MLS affair. Or, as the marketers would say, a disaster.

Now you'd think an all-MLS final would be greeted with champagne and cigars. After all, those marketing execs work not only for Soccer United Marketing -- SuperLiga's organizers -- but also for MLS. They should take pride in the fact that MLS teams like Houston and New England can beat top teams from Mexico on a regular basis. This is a sign of progress in American soccer, right?

Problem is, the organizers were banking on the drawing power of a Mexican club to pull in a big crowd (and a big TV audience) for the final. They probably already had images in their heads: guys in sombreros sitting next to guys in Red Sox caps; pretty senoritas with red, green and white Mexican flags painted on their cheeks, sharing their popcorn with rosy-cheeked cuties; and two teams playing the beautiful game beautifully.

The Dynamo and the Revs had to go and ruin all that. Muchas gracias.

Much has been written since then about how to "improve" SuperLiga: Play some games in Mexico, delay the tournament so the Mexican teams are not in their preseason, up the stakes with the winner receiving a Copa Libertadores berth, among other suggestions I've seen.

Well, I'll tell you what also needs to improve: the Mexican teams' performance (not to mention their sportsmanship).

Apologists for the Mexican teams had ready excuses for their sides' failures. They complained that the MLS clubs were in midseason form and the Mexican sides were still in preseason.

However, that's not true. The Mexican Primera started its season on the weekend before the semifinals, so both Pachuca and Atlante were technically in-season. Plus, I could counter that MLS teams' being in midseason just means they are fatigued from playing half a season, while the Mexican teams are still fresh.

There was also the travel excuse, which said that the Mexican teams were worn down by the long flights to the U.S. But New England's trip to Los Angeles during group play was a lot longer than Pachuca's trip to Houston.

The simple truth is, the Dynamo and the Revs were better. They deserved their wins (although Pachuca got shafted on a disallowed goal against Houston) and their places in the finals. This may not sit well with the suits in New York, and I know it doesn't sit well with the Mexican teams.

The postgame scuffles after both semifinals spoke volumes. I was at Gillette Stadium and watched Atlante's frustration boil over in a cascade of shouting, shoving and shenanigans. I witnessed one staffer eye-gouge Revs defender Chris Albright. The Iron Colts acted like snot-nosed little rich kids who suddenly didn't get their way. It was loser-ish stuff.

And although I deplored the ugly scenes, I have to admit I took a certain pleasure in its occurring. Why? Because things like that only happen when you beat someone at their own game, which is exactly what American teams are capable of doing to Mexican teams now.

Rivalries are created on the field, not in marketers' offices; however, SuperLiga has done a lot to fire up the U.S.-Mexico soccer rivalry. The animosity that has long existed between the national teams -- from the 1995 Copa América quarterfinal won by the U.S. on penalties, to the '97 World Cup qualifying draw at the Azteca, to the U.S.' historic victory in the round of 16 at the '02 World Cup -- has now reached the club level.

"First, when the MLS came out, we Mexicans said, 'Yes, sure, the Americans ... they will never be better than us," a colleague in Mexico City wrote me in a recent e-mail. "Then the U.S. began beating Mexico. And we said, 'Don't worry, it's just once in a while.' And now, Mexico no longer beats the U.S. So now we're worried."

SuperLiga has its flaws. I would love to see some matches played in Mexico next year. The schedule should be shifted back to allow the Mexican teams more time to get match fit (and afford them fewer excuses). Maybe a Copa Libertadores berth should be at stake (rather than giving one to the InterLiga champion; to be honest, I'm not even sure what InterLiga is).

And for sure, the money issues between the tournament and the MLS Players Union need to be solved. (Idea: Give the players more money!)

But the best way to improve SuperLiga next year is to remind the Mexican teams that they couldn't win it this year.

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