With so many different countries organizing professional leagues throughout the world, an added emphasis gets added to inter-country competitions. With a promotion/relegation system in place, it gives the opportunity to continuously face new competition while also providing an opportunity to compete against hundreds of other teams within the given country. Imagine each country as a different conference in the NCAA, except winning your domestic in soccer is far more meaningful than winning your conference in the NCAA.
Take the SEC in college football for example - you have powerhouse teams that are going to compete for conference & national championships on a yearly basis while the worst teams in the conference are continuously going to struggle. Then there’s the Sun Belt, a conference featuring far-less talented teams in a similar geographical area as the SEC. It’s as simple as this: the SEC can be compared to the English Premier League, while the Sun Belt is similar to England’s second division (The EFL Championship).
The domestic league is by far the most important inner-country competition. Most top leagues have 16-20 clubs, each playing every opposing team twice in a season: once home and once away. Since everyone plays everyone an equal amount, there is no need for a playoff at the end of the season, as the champion won fair and square. Compare this to most American sports where we have conferences - LeBron James benefitted for years from playing in the weaker Eastern Conference. It would’ve been unfair to crown LeBron a champion based on regular-season results alone as his win total was skewed. For those who need the thrill of a playoff-like format, that’s why we have the Champions League and league cups. :)
League cups can be compared to a less-prestigious March Madness going on during the league season. League cups include teams from all of a country’s divisions - the smaller teams play in the earlier rounds. As the tournament progresses, games are selected at random. You could draw your bitter rivals or a team 4 divisions below you. Results are completely independent of the domestic league - a team could be eliminated from the league cup at the very beginning of the season but go on to win their league title. The league cups feature all sorts of upsets and storylines and provide opportunities for smaller clubs to win a legitimate trophy.
Domestic leagues in soccer can be best compared to the NCAA. Each country can be compared to a different conference, while the various leagues (conferences) make up the continental soccer governments in Europe, South America, etc. (NCAA). Next up, we’ll learn about how teams play other teams in other countries.
Author: Living in Southern California, Robert Sweeney has been a fan of soccer since he played as a young child. Since then, he’s become a diehard Tottenham and US National Team fan. Rob enjoys writing about the impact soccer has had on his life in hopes that it betters others as well. Twitter: @robsweeney11