May 15, 2013, 6:04 PM EST
Many of Europa League’s problems were laid bare on Wednesday, and while moments after the tournament’s high point seem an ill-opportune time to address those concerns, there aren’t many other points on the calendar when we’re willing to consider Europa. For many teams in the competition – small clubs in top-heavy leagues that have little chance of ever making Champions League — it’s a great tournament, one that gives them opportunities, opponents, and exposure they wouldn’t otherwise have. And UEFA tosses in some money, too. For other teams, however, the tournament is a conciliatory obligation, one in which they’re used as a pawn to enhance the competition’s spurious legitimacy.
Thus was have today’s final. Chelsea was only in it because they flamed out of Champions League. Same with Benfica, who didn’t have Chelsea’s excuse of having played in a difficult group. They failed to beat out Celtic for the knockout round spot from their Champions League group. Why would anybody create a competition where two of fall’s underachievers are competing for honors in the spring?
If you’re reading this site, that’s probably not news to you, but as you see the likes of John Terry and Rafa Benítez celebrate today’s win, keep their accomplishment in perspective. Today was a battle between two teams for whom Europa League will never be a preseason goal. This, as the abused yet accurate metaphor explains, is to European soccer what the National Invitational Tournament is to NCAA basketball. Since everybody – from the fans, to the coaches, to the players – knows it’s “the other tournament,” the stakes are never going to justify the pomp.
That attitude was apparent through most of today’s match. Yes, it was very entertaining at the end – 10 minutes of back-and-forth action that almost talked you into an extra 30 – but for most of the day, the match was drab. Benfica’s midfield controlled much of it. Chelsea didn’t care. A goal off a long ball; a penalty kick – it wasn’t exactly captivating stuff. Though the tactical battle in the midfield added a somewhat cerebral (or, philosophical) element to the game, that intrigue was undermined by a lack of intensity. Call it cagey, if you want, but it was still a problem, one that was only corrected in the final moments.
All of which goes back to the competition’s main problems. Not enough teams that care about it, especially those which are relegated to it from Champions League. And when those teams enter the competition in the Round of 32, they are often superior to those competing in group stage, creating a continuity issue that begs potential viewers to discard the tournament’s initial rounds and only invest once the apathy.
Those favorites aren’t apathetic forever. Eventually, they convince themselves there’s something in winning a trophy. They delude themselves into believing an honor they didn’t care about six months earlier is worth the champagne and theatrics. I still don’t understand the psychosis behind this.
If Chelsea and Benfica weren’t today’s finalists, we might have seen a more spirited game – a contest between two sides that didn’t have to come to terms with their newly deflated status. If Europa League were left to those teams who could really use the competition – those who aren’t in Champions League and aren’t likely to get their any time soon – we could see sides that treat this match like an honor.
So give this tournament to the teams that want it. No more Champions League back doors, and no more looking toward the occasional big name entrant as a way to raise the competition’s profile. It’s more important to have compelling matches in a tournament with competitive integrity. While that means we might not have a club of Chelsea’s profile in the final, we may, in the long run, end up with a competition capable of earning a profile of its own.
Mar 5, 2015, 5:00 PM EST
Bruce’s boys are back, and once again, rebuilt. This changes little for a team with more championship aspirations.
Mar 5, 2015, 4:00 PM EST
Caleb Porter’s final foray in the Rose City? He’ll need the playoffs this year, otherwise…
Mar 5, 2015, 3:19 PM EST
After winning two of three titles last season, can the Sounders finally clinch that pesky MLS Cup?
Mar 5, 2015, 2:45 PM EST
From expansion team finishing first to making the playoffs to finishing in last, our writers have varied opinions on how MLS will unfold in 2015.
Mar 5, 2015, 2:08 PM EST
PST’s Editor and Lead Writer looks back at the midweek madness, and assesses where we are at with 10 games to go.
Mar 5, 2015, 1:20 PM EST
Can the Revs build on a fantastic 2014? Heaps hopes so…
Mar 5, 2015, 12:50 PM EST
In the latest MiB pod, Alexi Lalas stops by to preview the 2015 MLS season.
Mar 5, 2015, 12:20 PM EST
Here’s what the MLS commish had to say about the new CBA, as months of negotiating finally paid off on Wednesday.
Mar 5, 2015, 11:40 AM EST
Who will bounce back or come from nowhere to shine in 2015? Here’s a speculative look.
Mar 5, 2015, 11:00 AM EST
Saints’ players get stuck into some hockey on a break in Switzerland.
Mar 5, 2015, 10:06 AM EST
Evans and Cisse could face six-game ban if found guilty.
Mar 5, 2015, 9:30 AM EST
How will the Red Bulls get on as Marsch ushers in a new era?
Mar 5, 2015, 8:47 AM EST
Should the league or the players feel happier on the eve of the 2015 season after a new CBA was agreed?
Mar 5, 2015, 8:07 AM EST
Reid is going nowhere, as New Zealand international signs new deal at Upton Park.
Mar 4, 2015, 10:51 PM EST
Charlie Austin played well, and the club truly appeared unlucky not to find an equalizer in the 2-1 loss. They were a step off all night.
Mar 4, 2015, 10:00 PM EST
The aggregate loss leaves the Montreal Impact as the lone Major League Soccer hope in the CCL semifinals.
Mar 4, 2015, 9:16 PM EST
The clubs have played in 36 finals, second-most to Real Madrid’s 39.
Mar 4, 2015, 7:58 PM EST
Clearly Nick Mendola’s open letter last night did the trick. You’re all welcome.
Mar 4, 2015, 7:48 PM EST
The short answer is, “Yes. Yes they did.” Manchester United and Newcastle United had two more spits on target than actual goals on Wednesday.
Mar 4, 2015, 7:15 PM EST
Last season a one-hit wonder? Not a chance. D.C. United is here to stay.
- 2015 MLS season preview: LA Galaxy 0
- 2015 MLS season preview: Portland Timbers 0
- 2015 MLS season preview: Seattle Sounders 0
- PST predicts Major League Soccer’s 2015 standings; Do you agree? 4
- Premier League Playback: With 10 games to go, here’s how things stand 2
- Men In Blazers podcast: Ginormous preview of 2015 MLS season with Alexi Lalas 0