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SOCCER

The Giants Cup Is a Bigger Joke

August 02, 2001|GRAHAME L. JONES

If P.T. Barnum were alive today, it's doubtful he'd be promoting soccer in Los Angeles but he might be working for CONCACAF.

One circus, after all, is as good as another--only the clowns are different.

A jaundiced view, true, but it stems from the fact that at the very moment the city's professional soccer team, the Galaxy, is on an unplanned lull in its schedule, a tournament of very recent and extremely dubious heritage is being played in its backyard.

We are speaking, of course, of the Giants Cup, or the Copa de Gigantes as it is being called to curry favor with those who might be presumed to have even the slightest interest in such a transparently fake event: namely, Spanish-speaking soccer fans.

But even they, fortunately, are not fooled.

On Tuesday night, a crowd of perhaps 2,000 showed up at the Coliseum to see Club America of Mexico--the once-renowned Las Aguilas--defeat Municipal of Guatemala, 2-1, and clinch a two-game quarterfinal series, 3-1 on aggregate.

On Wednesday night, things were even worse and barely 1,500 turned out at the same stadium to see Guadalajara of Mexico--the once-famed Chivas Rayadas--tied, 1-1, by Comunicaciones of Guatemala, which advanced to Friday's semifinals, 4-2 on aggregate.

When the game is meaningful, Chivas fans can fill the Coliseum on their own. So can Club America followers.

But they recognize a fake when they see it and won't turn out for a second-rate tournament manufactured by CONCACAF, soccer's governing body in the North and Central American and Caribbean region.

Not when they know in advance that Club America and former Argentina national team Coach Alfio "Coco" Basile will leave his top players out of the lineup.

This is how ludicrous it gets: Not only did Basile fail to bring Mexican national team players Octavio Valdez and Braulio Luna and Chilean national team players Ivan Zamorano or Fabian Estay to Los Angeles for Tuesday night's game, he didn't even show up himself.

Club America's top players and coach are supposed to come in for Friday night's semifinals. Maybe.

Similarly, Guadalajara's coach, former Argentina national team captain Oscar Ruggeri, did not include Mexican national team players Ramon Morales and Oswaldo Sanchez and most of the rest of his first team for Wednesday night's game and followed Basile's example by staying home himself.

And this is a tournament CONCACAF expects the media and the public to take seriously?

Small wonder the crowds were minuscule.

Soccer fans in Los Angeles are more sophisticated than they are given credit for and are understandably wary of a tournament that, by the time it ends on Sunday, will have taken five months to play, with games spanning eight countries and producing, in the end nothing more than two teams that will--drum roll, please--qualify for yet another CONCACAF invention, the so-called Clubs Cup, in 2003.

Truth be told, the Giants Cup appears to have been dreamed up simply as another way to put some (read Mexican) television money into the confederation's pockets or that of its incompetent and undeserving marketing partner, Miami-based Inter Forever.

Last November, CONCACAF willed the Giants Cup into existence, proclaiming that it would stand alongside its other annual tournament, the Champions Cup, as the twin pillars of club soccer in the 38-nation region.

What it conveniently failed to note, however, was that not many people have paid much attention to the Champions Cup in its 39-year existence.

The fact that the Galaxy won it this year didn't exactly spark parades through the streets of Los Angeles, that's for sure.

But instead of working to improve prominence and visibility for the Champions Cup, CONCACAF muddied the waters even more.

It decided to create the Giants Cup and decreed that its participants would be chosen according to--and this is where it really gets suspect--not performance but popularity.

In other words, attendance would determine which teams were invited, not any effort on the field itself. The laughter over that concept still has not subsided.

According to Chuck Blazer, CONCACAF's general secretary, the Giants Cup "gives credit to an often overlooked side of football: the success of clubs in promoting themselves and attracting supporters to their grounds."

Unsaid, naturally, is that if you create a tournament and allow only the teams with the most fans to take part, you stand a better chance of garnering a few more dollars at the gate and from television rights.

From a purely sporting standpoint, however, it makes no sense.

Club America, for example, hasn't won the Mexican league championship in more than a decade, but it is in the first (and hopefully last) Giants Cup.

Another of the 12 teams invited was Major League Soccer's D.C. United, a club that last season finished with a pitiful 8-18-6 record and failed to make the playoffs.

But D.C. United's attendance got it the invitation.

In all, 12 teams were chosen to take part: four from North America, six from Central America and two from the Caribbean.

A cynic might suggest that CONCACAF felt a Guadalajara-Club America match at the Coliseum would be a fine money-spinner and arranged a tournament that would create just such a final.

If so, that possibility vanished Wednesday.

On Friday, Comunicaciones will play D.C. United in one semifinal at 7 p.m. while Club America will play Saprissa of Costa Rica in the other at 9:30 p.m.

No need to rush for tickets.

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