CONCACAF on Monday announced a new format and schedule for the CONCACAF Champions League, which will see the elimination of the group stage in favor of a second tournament and MLS participation from February through May of each year only.
The changes, which will be implemented beginning in the 2017-18 CCL, will not affect the number of MLS teams that are able qualify for the tournament, as the United States will continue to get four places alongside Canada’s one.
Instead of participating in a group stage, however, US and Canadian qualifiers will enter straight into the revamped CONCACAF Champions League, a 16-team knockout tournament starting in February that will feature those five teams, along with four qualifiers from Mexico, the winner of the Caribbean Club Championship, the national champions from Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Panama, plus the winner of a combined Central American and Caribbean tournament that will take place from August to October of the previous year, replacing the current CCL group stage.
The fall tournament will feature the runners-up and losing semifinalists of the Caribbean Club Championship plus 13 Central American teams – two each from Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama and Nicaragua, plus one from Belize.
Countries and sub-regions (e.g. Central America, the Caribbean) will be assigned to participate in each of the two tournaments based on a competition index created by CONCACAF, which takes into account regional and national leagues’ success in the Champions League over the past nine seasons, since the group phase format was introduced.
Both tournaments will both be contested in their entirety by home-and-away, aggregate goals series. The winner of the CONCACAF Champions League in May will earn the confederation’s berth in that year’s FIFA Club World Cup, typically held in December.
Between the two tournaments, 31 teams will participate, up from the 24 that qualified for the CCL under the previous format.
“The expansion of the CONCACAF club competitions platform to 31 clubs is an important step forward in the confederation’s efforts to include more member association representation and increase participation at the highest levels of our competitions,” said CONCACAF President Victor Montagliani in a statement released by the confederation. “The continued growth of club competition in CONCACAF is representative of the strengthening of the sport throughout the region, and along with the new format for the Champions League, provides the base for a formidable club championship structure that will entertain and engage fans region-wide for years to come.”
The current CCL, which will now be the last one to take place in the current format, resumes at the end of February. The New York Red Bulls will host the Vancouver Whitecaps on Feb. 22, with the return leg in Vancouver on March 2. The other remaining MLS participant, FC Dallas, will host Panama’s Arabe Unido on Feb. 23 before traveling to Central America for the return leg on March 1.
The Seattle Sounders, FC Dallas, New York Red Bulls, Colorado Rapids and Toronto FC are the MLS teams currently slated to take place in the first edition of the new CONCACAF Champions League.