Monday, April 20, 2015

Clash of the Americas: Champions League Final

Many soccer fans in Chicago are faced with this quandary: who to root for in the CONCACAF Champions League? There are more Mexicans in Chicagoland than in many other cities in North America. The Mexican National Museum of Art is in Chicago. Not all Mexicans or Mexican-Americans are fans of soccer, or futbol, but much of the Spanish speaking world it is _the_ game, the only game that matters. Chicagoans, too, are passionate about their soccer. There are fans of English Premier League, Bundesliga, and Barcelona FC to name a few blockbuster soccer entities, as well as the local favorites, former U.S. Major League Soccer champions, Chicago Fire. Watching the FIFA World Cup from Brazil last year was a feast of entertainment as European, African, Middle Eastern, Asia-Oceanic, and American passions erupted. I watched the US Men's National Team on giant screens at the watch parties in Chicago's lakefront Grant Park. A smaller regional contest, the CONCACAF Champions League final, a tournament of North and Central American professional clubs, will be played April 22 and April 29, 2015, at Estadio Azteca in Mexico City and Olympic Stadium, Montreal, Canada, respectively, between Canadian team Montreal Impact who play in the US-based Major League Soccer and Mexico City's Club America of LigaMX.

This tournament final, played in two matches a week apart, may present a fan dilemma for some Chicagoans. Who to root for? Folks often have second favorite teams and leagues. It's common to root for your home team. Entry to CONCACAF Champions league means you're a winner. In international matches your club affiliation is second only to your country as in the phrase "for club and country." So when you've exhausted your allegiance to your club, and your country, who should you root for: your team franchise's corporate league? The odd thing is, Montreal did not win a MLS championship, they won a separate Canadian Championship to enter the tournament. They did not enter the tournament by winning the US Open Cup, the MLS Cup of the Supporter's Shield. As far as I'm concerned, they're representing Canada, not MLS, from a competitive standpoint.

On the heels of the USA 2-0 MEX exhibition game last week, the growing rivalry between these countries of the subject of soccer, and the upcoming CONCACAF Gold Cup, MLS expansion in NYC and Orlando, soccer fever in Chicago and the USA has been heating up. Montreal Impact have had a rivalry with Chicago and Chicago Fire fans going back to - wait for it - two years ago - when Chicago Fire former star and coach, Frank Klopas, recently left Chicago Fire for Montreal Impact, along with former Chicago Fire defender Bakary Soumare and midfielder Dilly Duka. Chicago Fire fans do like checking in with old teammates and certainly many would like to see Klopas and company do well. Klopas took his style with him to Montreal and hasn't hesitated to stir some controversy while coming in dead last in MLS standings in 2014. Soccer is an international sport and questions of allegiance are often tested by relationships of distance, family ties, even war. I've lived on this continent long enough to know not to subscribe to the fan police who tell folks how to be a fan or who to root for. If you like Club America, LigaMX or Mexico, and are also a fan of American soccer and MLS, I absolutely think you have solid reason to root for Club America over Montreal Impact in the CCL final. It's like my grandmother, a Ukrainian immigrant, used to say, "Up to you".