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  • The Campeones Cup is a nice idea, in theory, but its timing makes no sense and wasn't really beneficial to either team involved in the inaugural match–especially struggling MLS champion Toronto FC.
By Avi Creditor
September 20, 2018

At a time when Toronto FC is trying to heal its current wounds, old and new ones were opened in unnecessary fashion.

The Campeones Cup is a nice idea, in theory. The new, one-off match pits the reigning MLS Cup and Liga MX champions against each other, further cultivating the competition between the two leagues that is otherwise confined to the Concacaf Champions League. Fair enough. There's one major problem, though. The timing is horrendous.

Imagine the FA Community Shield taking place in March. Or any European Super Cup-type match going on in January. That's essentially what happened Wednesday night, as Tigres beat Toronto FC 3-1 in the inaugural Campeones Cup at BMO Field, more than nine months removed from winning their respective league titles.

There's been another Liga MX champion crowned since then, when Santos Laguna won the Clausura title, and while Tigres earned the right to play in the match by winning the annual July Campeon de Campeones match between Apertura and Clausura champions, the club currently sits seventh in the Liga MX table. Concacaf has since crowned its official king through the Champions League, when Chivas Guadalajara beat TFC on penalties in April. Toronto is presently the 19th-best team in MLS, out of 23.

It's a hard sell to convince anyone that, as the promotional materials say, this game will continue to "crown the best club in North America."

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One one hand, it's tough to introduce a new competition and have it take hold immediately. That's why less than 15,000 turned out in an otherwise passionate soccer city for a match that was supposed to serve as a definitive crowning achievement. Concacaf isn't alone. UEFA has that challenge cut out for itself with the new Nations League concept for national teams, for instance. But here, it seemed like a number of logisitcal steps could've been taken to ensure a more palatable entry for the Campeones Cup. 

Its place on the calendar is the biggest problem. Like the aforementioned Shield/Super Cup matches, it has no place being played this late into both teams' seasons. With the Liga MX Clausura starting in January and MLS season beginning in early March, a winter date seems most reasonable. There would surely be cries that teams are still in preseason or early-season mode, or that weather conditions could make for a nightmare, but it makes a heck of a lot more sense to play a match like this closer to when those teams were crowned than a midweek fixture so far removed from their title wins.

An earlier date would also require moving the Campeon de Campeones qualifier to right after the Apertura and cooperation from the Mexican federation to alter which teams are featured in that match, which, admittedly, seems like a stretch. But even a late July match to coincide with the current timing of the Campeon de Campeones–how about played during the week of the MLS All-Star Game, which turns into MLS vs. Liga MX stars and a full-on MLS-Liga MX showdown week?–would be more sensible and attention-grabbing. 

Instead, both are currently fighting for their playoff lives in their respective leagues, far removed from any semblance of form that would make either "the best club in North America." And that brings us back to why the match was so detrimental for Toronto FC.

Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

Perhaps winning it would've served as a launchpad for the Reds, but instead all it provided was another setback and a microcosm of its 2018. Poor defending, sloppy giveaways and a bad loss is a familiar trope for the club that enjoyed the best season in MLS history last year. It was exacerbated by an apparent injury to Sebastian Giovinco, of all people, who is the straw that stirs Toronto's drink.

After everything TFC has been through since the start of the new season, it didn't need to be reminded that it was second-best to a Mexican foe on a final stage, nor did it need to be exposed by a team with more depth and starpower than any team TFC would face in MLS. Now, at a time when its playoff hopes hinge on every result, it has to worry about an injury to its showpiece star, whose words a few weeks ago regarding the to-be-altered playing surface at BMO Field rang eerily true.

"We continue to put sand on the grass," Giovinco said last month. "The (CFL's) Argos play, TFC 2 plays. Everybody plays on this field and every game we lose a player [to injury]. This is not possible."

Instead of using this week to get ready for a must-win match this weekend against the very formidable New York Red Bulls, Toronto dedicated its time and physical and mental energy to a match that should've been held months ago, when the stench of Champagne in the home locker room at BMO Field was more fresh and applicable. After emerging with another hapless loss and a fresh injury concern, there's very little that indicates TFC has what it takes to be Campeones again in 2018. It all just seems so unnecessary.

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