The verdict on SuperLiga

Martin Rogers
Yahoo! Sports

Due to its scheduling coinciding with David Beckham's arrival in the United States, the SuperLiga was always going to be tried in the court of public soccer opinion.

Yet in its first season, the ground-breaking tournament involving four teams from Major League Soccer and four from the Mexican league enjoyed a level of success that surprised even its founders.

Big crowds, partisan support, exciting matches and a nail-biting final combined to ensure that SuperLiga got off to a flying start and is likely to continue for several years.

This column has not always supported the approach of MLS, but the organization deserves praise for taking a gamble on a new event that was by no means guaranteed to succeed.

"SuperLiga exceeded all our expectations and we are thrilled how it has been received in this, its first year," said Nelson Rodriguez, vice president of United Soccer Marketing, the marketing arm of MLS.

"The tournament has tapped into the growing soccer rivalry between the United States and Mexico and that is a big part of why it has gone so well."

From the outset, the signs were strong. Chivas Guadalajara supporters flooded into the Los Angeles Coliseum for their team's victory over the Los Angeles Galaxy to such an extent that it must have seemed like a home game for their players. Then the Galaxy were involved in the most remarkable game of the competition, narrowly holding off a late charge from FC Dallas to win a 6-5 thriller in Texas.

SuperLiga was splashed all across the highlight reels during the semifinals, as Beckham delivered his first goal since moving from Real Madrid with a stunning free kick against D.C. United. With Pachuca sinking Houston Dynamo in the other half of the draw, the dream scenario of one MLS team against one Mexican side in the final was realized.

"The sense that the teams are not just representing themselves, but defending the honor of their league and their country, is a big factor," Rodriguez said. "The final was not simply a case of the Galaxy against Pachuca. It was the United States against Mexico. We envisioned a tournament that would fuel the passion of the fans and that is what took place."

Indeed, Pachuca's Christian Gimenez, an Argentine, insisted after his team's penalty shootout victory at the Home Depot Center that "Mexico would not allow us to lose this match."

On this evidence, it would seem that SuperLiga can occupy a significant role in the soccer calendar and, once some minor creases are ironed out, can continue to develop.

It will not only provide a pleasant diversion from MLS' regular season, but it'll also help to further tap into the huge and passionate Hispanic market that treats soccer as a religion as much as a sport.

One thing that needs to be implemented is a consistent and definitive method of qualification in a similar manner to the way European clubs book their place in the Champions League.

Mexico will decide on its own system. A sensible option for MLS would be awarding the top four regular-season finishers places in SuperLiga for the following year.

This year's version was based loosely on teams' past championship performances, yet it was no surprise that a spot was found for the Galaxy due to the publicity generated by Beckham. However, in order for SuperLiga to be regarded as a trophy worth winning – not just for the $1 million first prize – berths must be awarded on merit, not on marketability.

It is important that MLS sends its strongest teams to take on their counterparts in the Mexican league, which is played at a high standard and is certainly one of the most competitive outside Europe. The league is reasonably wealthy, enjoys strong television ratings and is a worthwhile partner in a venture such as this.

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