The possibility of an all-Liga MX or all-MLS final still exists, with Pachuca and FC Dallas on opposite sides of the bracket. Arabe Unido gives Panama hope for its first CCL semifinalist, while Saprissa can be Costa Rica’s first semifinalist since 2011.
Of the remaining teams, only Pachuca has won a title in the CCL era (2008-present). Tigres lost in the 2016 final, the only other team to make it that far.
Full schedule New York Red Bulls (1) vs. Vancouver Whitecaps (8)
Tigres UANL (4) vs. Pumas UNAM (5)
Arabe Unido (2) vs. FC Dallas (7)
Pachuca (3) vs. Saprissa (4)
The first legs will be played in late February, and the bright side to the intra-league quarters will be one MLS side waiting a round before facing a more in-form club playing a traditional season schedule (though that’s an overblown excuse at this point).
Some fans don’t care much for the tournament, while others — myself included — are extremely keen to see an MLS team win the CCL and represent North America in the Club World Cup, where it can get a high profile litmus test in a serious competition (Real Madrid beat Cruz Azul 4-0 in a 2014 semifinal).
FIFA President Gianni Infantino earlier this week raised the prospect of adding another 16 teams to make it a 48-team tournament, a move that would reduce the pool of countries with sufficient infrastructure.
“From a 2026 perspective, pick a number (of finalists) and North American can handle it,” Victor Montagliani, president of the North and Central America and Caribbean soccer confederation, said Tuesday in an interview. “A CONCACAF bid would be strong regardless of what number we finally set on.”
The World Cup was last staged in the CONCACAF region by the United States in 1994. The Americans are eager to get another shot at hosting in 2026, potentially linking up with neighbors Canada and Mexico.
“Is there an opportunity to combine the three countries? Perhaps. We don’t know that yet,” said Montagliani, a FIFA vice president. “There have been zero formal discussions. We are not there yet.”
After the troubled bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 tournaments, which sparked years of corruption investigations, FIFA will be hoping for a smoother vote for 2026. Originally earmarked for 2017, the decision by the FIFA membership is now not due until 2020.
With Africa, South America, Europe and Asia hosting the World Cups between 2010 and 2022, it had been widely accepted that it should be North America’s turn for the first time since 1994.
FIFA’s statues currently prevent consecutive World Cups being staged on the same continent, but China could yet seek to follow 2022 host Qatar. Chinese conglomerate Wanda signed up as a top-tier FIFA sponsor in March saying it wanted to be “better placed” to help decide where future editions of the World Cup are awarded.
“There has to be some sort of rotation or else you look what is happening with the Olympics,” Montagliani said, referring to Tokyo hosting the 2020 Olympics between the 2018 and 2022 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, and Beijing.
“I don’t think it’s a good thing that it keeps on going to one area. It’s not a World Cup that belongs in one region. So I think so sort of rotation needs to occur because the World Cup belongs to the world and we need to respect that.”
Montagliani applauded Infantino for “thinking outside the box” by floating the idea of a 48-team World Cup.
“There are traditionalists in the game who I think, if it was up to them, would still have a 16-team World Cup,” Montagliani said in an interview in London. “The reality is that the World Cup is not just an economic beast, but a product that inspires hope for countries. So if we can improve it, make it bigger without losing its romanticism, why not?”
Before FIFA settles on a new format, Montagliani is sure there will be an “exhaustive process of review and cost benefit analysis.” The format and bidding process will begin to be discussed next week when Infantino chairs a FIFA Council meeting in Zurich.
In outlining one potential format earlier this week, Infantino said, “you could have a tournament in which the 16 best teams advance to a group stage and the other 16 will came out of a `playoff’ ahead of the group stage, and the World Cup could end up with 48 teams.”
The more pressing issues for FIFA center on the 2018 World Cup with the spotlight increasingly on Russia over racism and doping in sport, and the involvement in the war in Syria.
Montagliani sees no need to strip Russia of the World Cup.
“It’s a very delicate situation because we are a sport,” he said. “You try to as much as possible stay out of the geopolitics of the world because it’s a just a dangerous thing (to mix) and so it is a bit of walking a tightrope.”
The contentious dual votes on the 2018 and 2022 World Cups sparked years of criminal investigations and FIFA inquiries.
FIFA said there was not sufficient evidence to warrant removing their country’s hosting rights. But before being banned and ousted from the FIFA presidency, Sepp Blatter said last year that American authorities would not have indicted more than 40 people in its soccer investigation had it not been for the 2010 vote outcome.
To Montagliani it was the “tipping point,” providing an “opportunity to clean the game.”
“In some regards maybe the best thing that happened in football was Russia and Qatar,” Montagliani said in a speech Wednesday at the Leaders sports business conference in London.
Following this weekend’s match between Wisconsin and Rutgers, Brotherton will hop on a plane to meet head coach Anthony Hudson and New Zealand in Nashville. The Kiwis are Stateside for an Oct. 8 match against Mexico in Nashville before heading to Washington for an Oct. 11 date with the USMNT at RFK Stadium.
This isn’t a bizarre story of a tiny national team finding a college kid with an ancestral tie and giving him a call; Brotherton is off to tangle with two of CONCACAF’s best in a match that will hopefully better prepare New Zealand for the 2017 Confederations Cup.
Brotherton will enter the trip on his 20th birthday, and on the path for caps Nos. 7 and 8. He’s the only amateur player on a team with West Ham defender Winston Reid, Leeds United striker Chris Wood, and Portland Timbers backstop Jake Gleeson.
It’s no secret that Brotherton has the skill set to be a professional player now, and his call-ups to the national team in the summer before his freshman year had pro clubs on alert. But Brotherton had signed to play for head coach John Trask at a very good school at Wisconsin, and that meant something to him.
“It was a decision I had to make, and I felt that I had made a commitment to the school,” said Brotherton, whose father was educated at Oxford. “I’ve always been passionate about my education and wanted to get my degree so I felt I wanted to give college soccer a try, start off here at Wisconsin and see where it went.”
Brotherton is one of a bevy of young New Zealand players plying their trade in the NCAA Soccer game. Xavier’s Cory Brown was the Big East preseason Defensive Player of the Year. Saint Francis Red Flash senior defender Francis de Vries is an All-American, and Stuart Holthusen was First Team All-MAC at Akron in 2015.
The University at Buffalo has a Kiwi head coach and four players, including goalkeeper Cameron Hogg, who played with Brotherton on the U20 team.
“Sam has always been a leader in any side he stepped into,” Hogg said. “From Auckland to the national U20s, he’s always been a leading voice even if he wasn’t wearing the armband.”
Wisconsin is 4-2-1, the longtime MLS assistant Trask running the Badgers program to a solid start. Trask has started the sophomore in 24 matches, including a freshman season that saw Brotherton named to the Big Ten All-Freshman Team and had his teammates recognizing a leader.
“Sam is one of the few sophomores that I’ve named captain,” Trask told PST. “It’s rare in a team. Sam has just got it. His presence as a person and the quality of his play, every guy on the team said he should be our captain. I’ve got a ton of time for him.”
“Sam is an excellent center back and he’s incredible in the air,” said Adam Lauko, who graduated from Wisconsin in 2015. “On top of that he is mature beyond his years and a well-respected leader. He’s a great guy to be around as well.”
2015 was an insane ride for Brotherton, as the kid went from scoring at the U20 World Cup to his freshman year in Madison. Two days after that season ended, he earned his first full national team cap when he played in a 1-0 win over Oman.
“It was amazing,” Brotherton said. “It’s really quite hard to put into words. It’s very special. I was so fortunate that it happened so young in my career. It’s an honor, but it makes you want to work even harder.”
Being a center back means having the opportunity to learn from Reid, a man with 19 caps and 175 appearances for West Ham. All but 28 of those have come with the Irons in the Premier League, and Reid was chosen the Hammer of the Year in 2012-13 and the New Zealand Footballer of the Year for 2014.
“Rugby is the main sport in New Zealand, but Winston has increased the awareness and popularity of football,” Brotherton said. “He’s a great player and a great guy. A lot of guys look up to him, and every time you get in camp with him it’s great to learn off someone like that.”
When New Zealand won the 2016 OFC Nations Cup, Brotherton started all five matches. He went 120 minutes in the final as the Kiwis won in penalty kicks, but still came back to school at Wisconsin.
“With all his international call-ups and how difficult our business school is, we’re still optimistic he’s going to be an Academic All-American in addition to a soccer All-American,” Trask said. “He knows I won’t stand in his way when the moment’s right. I still think he can learn at the collegiate level while also pushing his degree. It’s a very unique situation.”
Brotherton said he’s grateful to Trask, who he calls “a winner”, and Wisconsin for allowing him to pursue his international career. He praises Hudson’s preparation and tactical acumen, and admits that he’s open to playing professional in Europe, North America, or wherever the best opportunity lies.
“I love going to the beach,” Brotherton said. “I spearfish a little bit, and I definitely miss being close to the sea.”
That’s all in the future, though. Brotherton has a busy week ahead of him, as Wisconsin looks to go 3-1 in Big Ten play with a home win over Rutgers before he goes to hopefully start in front of thousands of passionate Mexico and USMNT fans in two gigantic stadia.
“All players look forward to playing in big games in front of some good crowds,” Brotherton said. “It’s exciting and those opportunities don’t come around too often, so it brings the best out of you as a player.”