RSL: Playoffs could create huge windfalls
Making the playoffs for the first time isn't only about pride and history and achievement for Real Salt Lake.
It's about money.
By finally reaching the Major League Soccer playoffs, RSL has put itself in position to make perhaps millions of dollars by competing in tournaments that supplement the usual league schedule over the next year and a half.
The team is hoping to play in either the CONCACAF Champions League or the SuperLiga tournament, depending on how it fares in the playoffs and how officials might adjust the selection procedures for those tournaments. Judging by history, RSL ultimately could play as many as seven additional home games - with all their attendant revenue in new Rio Tinto Stadium - though fewer is more likely.
"It would be a great step," general manager Garth Lagerwey said, "and in this market, fans are really going to see meaningful games. We can bring in great teams like Real Madrid for friendlies . . . but what people want to see is meaningful games, and that's what SuperLiga and Champions League games are. They're all-or-nothing, do-or-die games, to see who's better, and there's some national pride involved. That's something that's very attractive to our fans."
The CONCACAF Champions League pits the top club teams from around the region that includes North and Central America and the Caribbean, running from August to April each year. The SuperLiga matches teams from MLS and the Primera Division in Mexico in a shorter tournament contested in July and August - with all of the games played in the United States and a $1 million prize for the winner.
Historically, the MLS Cup champion and runner-up join the regular-season champ and U.S. Open Cup champion in the following year's Champions League tournament, meaning that RSL can qualify for the 2009-10 Champions League by reaching the MLS Cup final. (Columbus and D.C. United already have claimed the other two spots.)
The existing selection criteria for the tournaments are so similar, however, that the same four teams that played in the most recent SuperLiga - Houston, D.C. United, New England and Chivas USA - also are playing in the current Champions League, putting a strain on their schedule. Many of the same teams also usually play in the annual U.S. Open Cup.
In an effort to avoid so much duplication, the league is considering changes to the selection criteria that could be announced next month, perhaps assuring that playoff teams that don't reach the Champions League mostly will wind up in the SuperLiga, potentially assuring RSL a spot in that tournament.
It's all still pretty uncertain, with one exception.
"The better we do in the playoffs, the more likely we are to ascend to a berth in one of those tournaments," Lagerwey said. "It lays out very clearly for our team that there is something else to fight for here."
If RSL ends up in the SuperLiga, it can probably expect to play at least two extra home games and possibly more if it advances through group play. If the team reaches the Champions League, it would get at least one more home game if it's seeded into a preliminary round, and another three if it either advances or is seeded directly into group play.
Lagerwey said it's still up in the air whether tickets to such tournament games would be part of season-ticket packages, and how much additional revenue they might generate.
What he does know is that next season will be especially busy - with World Cup qualifying combining with the Confederations Cup in South Africa and the Gold Cup to complicate the schedule. Oh, and RSL is hosting the MLS All-Star Game, too.
"You just have a lot of balls in the air," Lagerwey said.
Chivas USA at RSL, 4 p.m., Fox Soccer
* By reaching the playoffs, RSL has improved its chance of playing extra home games through international tournaments that supplement the regular Major League Soccer schedule.
* The CONCACAF Champions League pits top club teams from around the region that includes North and Central America and the Caribbean.
* The SuperLiga matches teams from MLS and the Primera Division in Mexico, in a tournament con- tested in July and August. The games are played in the United States, with $1 million top prize.
Fire 0, Revolution 0: Brian McBride's header into the net was negated by an offside call in the 76th minute and the Chicago Fire escaped with a 0-0 draw against the New England Revolution in the opener of the Major League Soccer playoffs at Foxborough, Mass.