To CONCACAF's chagrin, subpar club destined for Club World Cup
Sometime in December, either Atlante or Cruz Azul will line up against some powerful club from some far-off locale in some far-off venue. That's because one of the two Mexican clubs will walk away with the CONCACAF Champions League crown, booking a ticket to the FIFA Club World Cup in the process.
And while the club will have earned the trip abroad, at this point, with eight months before the tournament kicks off, the hope throughout CONCACAF isn't for Atlante or Cruz Azul to succeed, but simply to avoid embarrassing itself -- and CONCACAF in the process.
Sure, the new-look CONCACAF club championship will produce a worthy champion; the winning club will have met all the requirements during the tournament, overcome challenges, scored clutch goals, kept others from scoring, fulfilled, essentially, the responsibilities inherent in a regional championship. But the tournament format isn't perfect, and it had a hand in determining how the respective clubs entered the tournament in the first place.
While previous successes helped the respective teams reach the top club tournament in the region, the clubs' respective form is anything but title-worthy. Consider that, in a combined 28 league games in the current Clausura 2009 season, Atlante and Cruz Azul have combined to win exactly four games. Atlante has been plagued with a feeble attack -- only Tigres and Morelia have scored fewer goals than Atlante's 15 -- while
Yet one of those two clubs may line up against Manchester United or Barcelona.
Now, things could change between now and the tournament's opening match. That game won't kick off until after the end of the Apertura '09 regular season, and both Atlante and Cruz Azul have shown the propensity to turn things around quickly. Atlante moved from Mexico City to Cancún following a 6-8-3 campaign, the last in a long line of seasons that came and went in relative obscurity, far from the spotlights shared by América, Pumas and Cruz Azul. In Cancún, Atlante found immediate success and claimed its second league title in club history.
Cruz Azul, meanwhile, went more than a decade between finals trips. After winning its eighth league title in the Invierno '97 title, Cruz Azul didn't return to the league final until the Clausura '08, though it went right back to the final the following season.
The tournament rewarded the teams for their past successes. Atlante was about nine months removed from its title by the time the tournament kicked off, and more than 14 months after winning the league title Atlante began its CCL quarterfinal series against the Houston Dynamo.
Those successful days, though, are long gone. Atlante and Cruz Azul scrapped their Clausura '09 hopes and began focusing on the CONCACAF Champions League. But success there hasn't taken the heat off the clubs' dismal Clausura performance. Cruz Azul coach
Whoever wins the CONCACAF Champions League will have many months to improve on its form and infuse some more talent into its roster. Summers in Mexico are typically busy, and the Champions League finalists might do well to restock and retool their respective rosters. Otherwise, CONCACAF's representative might make the region look like a less impressive soccer region than it really is.
Aguirre called up a squad of 22 players, who will train beginning Monday in Mexico City. The team has no players from Atlante, Cruz Azul, San Luis or Guadalajara (all four have international matches), nor does it feature any foreign-based players. But the players on the team might give an insight into Aguirre's Mexico plans.
Aguirre, though, stayed away from the foreigner debate altogether by not calling in any players born in Argentina or Brazil. Neither
As he did in 2001, Aguirre might again place his early success on the backs of strong league clubs such as Pachuca and Toluca -- though his reliance on América players may concern some. Along with Atlas and Puebla,
His exclusion of foreigners may be a coincidence -- the only regulars on the team were
Whatever the case, the foundation for Aguirre's squad has been set and El Tri can start its rebuilding process, hoping it will bear fruit in six weeks' time. After all, failure in El Salvador would sent El Tri tumbling into an even more chaotic state than it is now.