Merging the American Soccer Confederations, Pt 2: Solutions

Part 2 about how a CONCACAF & CONMEBOL merger will help MLS, North America and The Americas rival European soccer
by Mike Firpo   |   Friday, March 23, 2012

Merging the American Soccer Confederations - The Solutions

It’s just hours from yet another non-competitive CONCACAF tussle. The other day it was the USA U23 Men’s National Team trouncing Cuba 6-0 in Olympic Qualifying. This is nothing new, merely the most current of the many lopsided score-lines in this region. That score ultimately gives credence to the article last week.

In Part 1 of Merging the American Soccer Confederations, we took a look at the many issues holding back CONCACAF, why these issues will not get better, how the setup hold back Canada, the USA and Mexico and why CONCACAF is ultimately a flawed soccer confederation that cannot work well for anyone on its own. Now let’s take a look at a possible solution and the benefits it would bring.

The Solutions

Mergers: With the end of the controversial twenty-year Jack Warner era of CONCACAF leadership, the time is ripe for positive change. So, dismantle CONCACAF and merge it and its South American counterpart CONMEBOL into one stronger American confederation. The resulting confederation would span from Canada to Chile comparing in size and stature to the other 3* continental confederations:

Soccer Confederations - UEFA, CAF, AFC & OFC merged, CONCACAF & CONMEBOL merged
The result of the two mergers would be four continental soccer confederations of roughly the same size. Instead of the insignificant OFC made up of 14 tiny Pacific island nations serving mostly just to get their regional juggernaut New Zealand a berth into FIFA competitions, only to be pounded into reality once there. All OFC member federations would grow as part of the AFC (Asia), just as Australia did. The AFC/OFC merger would also serve to complete and connect the vast geographic and cultural diversity of Asia.

The African and European confederations wouldn’t change, and they don’t need to. They are both perfect as structured and their tournaments and qualifying is some of the easiest to understand in the vast and complex world football structure.

It’s North America, and the entire Americas ultimately, that will receive the largest benefit of simplifying and properly grouping the world’s soccer into four continental bodies instead of the current six.

Politics: It’s possible that the Caribbean nations of CONCACAF, with their longstanding strength due to their individual votes being as powerful as Mexico or the USA in CONCACAF voting, could even dominate the newly formed body as it did thru Jack Warner for all those years. The ‘CFU Sway’ would be less pronounced with the infusion of 10 more votes, but their vote is still a potential landmine to solve.

The South American federations, which were more balanced under CONMEBOL, would likely have none of that. So there would have to be two bodies that garnered power in the newly amalgamated American confederation.

A general electorate body where all 50 nations had equal votes and a 9 member Executive Board made up of a delegate each from Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, USA, Canada, Central America, Caribbean and 2 from other South American nations could help solve this issue. The members would have to be officials of their national FAs, but not the Presidents. This would be to limit power accumulation and possibilities for corruption.

Executive board members could serve a maximum of three three-year terms to give time to carry-out and see through policy changes for the sport, but not so long that the politicians can become mothball-riddled kleptomaniacs and tyrants who cling to power.

The President of the Confederation would be selected from one of these members (making it hard for non-soccer types and billionaires to buy their way in) and elected to serve a maximum of two three-year terms.

More devices to protect against the many forms of corruption could be tweaked later, but the seeds for a better American confederation than both have today, would be sewn.

Headquarters: The new American confederation would be best served if its headquarters was located in the melting-pot of Miami. The South Florida city is the unofficial Latin American capital of the world and nexus for nearly all of its cultures live and love the beautiful game together. Just last week, it was noted that Miami has the largest number of Uruguayans, outside of Uruguay. That doesn’t help CONCACAF, but it would help a united American confederation.

From a geographic standpoint, Miami is about as central as you can get for such a large confederation (though they all are). From a linguistic perspective it is the best city in the Americas to choose with its large numbers of Portuguese, Spanish and - America’s mother-tongue - English speakers throughout the area. There are also tons of Haitian immigrants so that the less used, but still needed, French translators and personnel to staff the HQ and conventions, would not be hard to find.

Culturally all delegates would feel at home with the diverse culture. Most of the 50 nations of the new confederation, outside of Canada and the USA, are from warm home nations so a HQ in New York like CONCACAF had for years, would not be ideal.

Legally, it would be wise to base the confederation headquarters in the USA, as was CONCACAF, and have it fall under USA jurisdiction to hinder any potential fraud. That action alone obviously didn’t prevent it in the past, but it seemed to occur much less on American soil than in the Caribbean.

Tournaments: There would be greater distances to traverse, but the vastly increased competition for CONCACAF nations and the improved marketability of the South American nations and their clubs, would be well worth it for all involved.

World Cup and FIFA/international tournament qualifying would be much simpler for all nations involved to figure out. There could be allowances for regional qualifying like there is today in CONCACAF with Central America and Caribbean (or Asia with East/West Qualifying due to distances between the frontiers and a mostly Arab Muslim west that requires its own representatives). The new confederation could also go with the current tournament qualifying templates of Africa and Europe, which sees several groups of 4 or 5 teams. It works well for both of them, and it could also work fine in the Americas.

But it is not just the international game that needs fixing. It is the club level as well. As we saw last week the CONCACAF Champions League is a failure competitively and cannot grow. CONMEBOL though has had much success with the Copa Libertadores and all of its clubs take it as seriously as the Europeans do with their Champions League. The only issue is that South America, like UEFA with the Europa League, has a secondary competition – the Copa Sudamericana, to lesser ranked clubs get involved in continental action, but to a lesser competitive and popular degree. Like the Europa League it suffers from being the stepchild and will never mean much. So let’s assume we can make the best decision possible for the short and long-term of our new confederation.

Therefore, let’s see how it plays out if we merge the three existing club tournaments into one larger tournament, but with no group play. Most of the tournaments soccer fans agree are the most exciting are fashioned this way: the English FA Cup, the actually exciting later stages of the Champions League, the knockout phase of the World Cup and on a closer level, the MLS Cup. Everybody likes knockout games. It’s only UEFA fearing its big greedy clubs succeeding and forming a superleague that made the UCL so mal-formed in recent years. For me, the Europa League was so much fun when it was the UEFA Cup and allowed to be knockout matches, or even round robin.

Let’s even get like Bob Ross and get “crazy” in our world and suggest a name. How about Copa Campeones / Champions Cup? It’s a cup competition, there are champions, it works, let’s do it and move on, we can always sort out the details later or just call it a Champions League too. Now let’s see how the numbers of the newly formed Copa Campeones (there are more Spanish speakers than English in our new confederation so get used to the Spanish version, brave new world this!) stack up versus the existing tourneys.

Copa Libertadores, Copa Sudamericana, CONCACAF Champions League & proposed Copa Campeones / Champions Cup
All three tournaments that exist today combine for 109 clubs, with qualifying in Canada and Caribbean increasing those numbers to roughly the same size of the 128-team proposed Copa Campeones. Today’s 109 clubs are of course spread across multiple tournaments and not unified in terms of simplicity, marketing, television or competitive understanding by fans.

If we move to one club competition, with 128 teams playing either 1 random draw hosted knockout match at one of the clubs, or a two-legged affair for all rounds, it still ends up with a ton less gamed, but MUCH more impactful (think NFL or last few World Cup Qualifiers or UCL matches) than currently. When matches become events, tickets are more precious, fans fill their local stadiums, the media gets more interested, TV ratings increase with advertising increases in-tow, more and better sponsors come and the money flows. If all goes well, the Europeans will be following the Americas one day and simplifying their bloated and deformed UCL into something similar.

Now let’s look at a preliminary breakdown of entrants.

Number of participating clubs per nation of the Americas for the proposed Copa Campeones / Champions Cup
The numbers can and should be moved along the lines of how the leagues develop over time and their strengths, like in Europe with their coefficients. The key though is it comes to 128 teams with the above structure and doesn’t lessen any nation currently, they either remain status quo or will have more clubs.

There are so many but here are a few of the benefits to the enlarged Copa Campeones:

- The Mexican, American and Canadian clubs would all see more entrants in continental play. This is not to be undervalued as this will give all not just more income, but like Argentinian or Brazilian clubs today in the Libertadores or English and Spanish clubs in the UCL, the more clubs you have playing continentally during the season, the greater benefit for the league and the national teams of all those involved. Continental play is what makes good players into great players. Even today US Men’s head coach Jurgen Klinsmann wants Clint Dempsey to get on a team that will play Champions League soccer, in order to be able to raise his game.

- Imagine also then what having 8 US-based MLS club entrants will do for the new American league. There won’t be promotion and relegation heating up the bottom of the MLS table for several decades at a minimum; so, how else to shake up the middle and bottom of the table but then to make them fight for those highly valuable 8 CC places next season. It’s one thing to know you didn’t win the MLS Cup, but imagine you have to watch your rivals play in Rio de Janeiro on Wednesday night next year, and you’re stuck watching them with your teammates at the hotel. You’d probably fight a little harder to be part of it, just like Euro players do so that their clubs earn those valuable spots.

- As mentioned above this is all of the futbol from the entire Americas, it is what the South Americans have been clamoring for and begging CONCACAF to acquiesce – more strong Mexican clubs and the big television and sponsor money they attract.

- The increases in TV money won’t stop there. MLS is one of the fastest growing American sports leagues and certainly has more potential than most leagues in the world for growth in all metrics. TV money for the North American markets could blossom under the CC if it starts to rival the European continental cash-cow – UEFA Champions League.

- If Copa Campeones’ sponsorship and TV income is split along the lines of entrants above, all boats in the Americas would rise.

- With more funds from the CC, American leagues and clubs will benefit greatly. They would not only be able to invest in youth academies and development but much needed stadium and infrastructure development that their current domestic incomes do not provide for.

- Also with this newfound revenue pipeline, many of the best talent in the Americas can stay home and contribute even further to the growth of their clubs, leagues and ultimately the soccer on the continent. Over time, the slowdown in the talent drain to Europe will lead to the clubs and leagues in the Americas improving beyond anything they could possibly dream of today.

- With more money to invest in better domestic players, you may even see Europeans headed to South America, more to North America and the other continents (Africa and Asia) best may even be tempted to come play in the Americas.

There is no doubt that one galvanized continental soccer tournament like the proposed Copa Campeones can improve the fortunes of our entire continents club soccer. So now let’s look at the national team level.

Similar to club level, and as we went over last week, the CONCACAF Gold Cup has and will never be a success. The biennial tournament has been hosted either solely by the USA or joint with Mexico (2 times) since 1991, choking out room for a change of scenery or stadia development thru tournament bidding. In a nutshell, it cannot grow. The last tournament in 2011 saw the dream final in Pasadena’s Rose Bowl with over 93,000 mostly Mexican-American fans in attendance. A great number assuredly, but this is only because all the quasi-destined drama beforehand fell perfectly for CONCACAF organizers, as it did the two previous tournaments.

In South America, the Copa America is still considered important for the smaller nations, but for several reasons Argentina and Brazil have not sent full-strength squads and the value of the tournament has suffered in recent years.

Both the Gold Cup and Copa America have invited foreign guests (themselves, Japan, etc.) to fill out the numbers and hopefully increase profitability. The Copa America though has done this more consistently and in 2011 had Japan withdrew after their earthquakes, only to see Costa Rica join Mexico as one of the two invitees. Generally it only serves to just confuse fans and make a mockery of the legitimacy of both tournaments. Imagine the Europeans inviting a national team to their prestigious party every four years. Not going to happen.

So, the best move again would have to be a merger of both tournaments into one simpler, bigger and stronger tournament. Because the Copa America has worldwide recognition already, is the bigger of the two that exist today and quite frankly cannot be improved upon with change. Let’s continue to call the new Copa America by its existing name.

Copa America, CONCACAF Gold Cup & proposed new Copa America
UEFA is moving from its current 16 team format in 2012, to its 24 team format in 2016 in France. The new Copa America should be able to match that move and copy the exact format of the Europeans. If it can work there, the combined Americans can do just as good a job on the field.

One of the positives of the enlarged Copa America would be similar to the Copa Campeones, more markets, more prestige, higher quality and ultimately more revenue through sponsorship and television. That money again, being funneled back into the game, this time instead of clubs though, mostly back to the national federations, so they can invest in their national team setups, grassroots, development and funding all of their other programs that are income negative, like youth and women’s national team play.

The other really great spinoff for the growth of the game in the Americas would be the mimicry of the European Championships bidding process. Instead of the CONCACAF Gold Cup being held in the USA every two years in NFL or college gridiron football stadiums and the Copa America just rotating their tourney into the next South American nation (amazingly based on alphabet not investment/best timing/proper infrastructure), the new Copa America can have bidding wars by rival nations looking to host. If the facility standards were required like in Europe for the Euros or the FIFA World Cup, this would lead to several new or renovated stadiums for the hosts, and a great investment and legacy for the game at the club level. The tournament would become much more prestigious and hosting rights, coveted.

On the field, Brazil (and all entrants) would not be allowed to field B-teams, but instead call-in stars from overseas. All 24 national teams would be the best of the continent and would provide a spectacle equal to the Euros in standard and to the African Nations Cup in passion.

In conclusion, the merger of the two existing American confederations into one super soccer confederation for the entire Western Hemisphere is not an easy task, but the time is now if it is to be done. It will take much foresight by administrators, but change at FIFA, CONCACAF and even CONMEBOL is at hand and with a new FIFA President shortly, the political will might be there.

The potential on the club and national team level is staggering. It is no exaggeration to say that the Americas could rival the Europeans if these mergers and changes are enacted.

For the USA and Canada national teams, their federations and the clubs of both nations, the results could be game-changing. Making the possibility of winning a Club World Cup or a FIFA World Cup, plausible and with a stronger framework and pathway to reach those high-marks, not just once but consistently.

Seems crazy to think and maybe even foolhardy to dare merging the American confederations, but at some point in Europe’s soccer beginnings there were naysayers for their union and their newly minted continental tournaments. The forbearer to the modern UEFA Champions League had detractors. Now see if you can find many administrators state that publicly. Even FIFA had the stubborn-to-join-the-party English FA to contend with for decades.

Eventually though logic prevails and the stench of stagnation cannot dampen the eyes of hope any longer. The trepidations for change are overridden by the fears of erosion.

And that’s where we are at in CONCACAF. We have gotten used to being backwards so long, that stable mediocrity seems like progression. It isn’t though, so now we must enact our own change before we get stuck for another twenty years, with no choice but to nod along and plod ahead in a tiny CONCACAF fishbowl.


Binghamton Univ.
Club Domestic:
NY Cosmos, RSL
Club Foreign:
Palermo, Napoli, FCB
Creator of Soccer Newsday. President of World Football Travel. Founder of NY Cosmos Campaign. Manager of North American Soccer Industry group on LinkedIn. Helped a few fans see the global game. Proposed on-field at MLS Cup 04. Longtime devotee of Soccer.