Last night Toronto FC became the 21st team to earn a berth into the 2012-2013 CONCACAF Champions League. The pool of teams will be completed when the top three teams from the Caribbean Football Union's tournament are determined. Those final three spots will be determined soon as that tournament is nearing the final group stage.
Without the final three teams in place we do still know who is going to be in which of the three pots with Pot A and Pot B being complete already. According to the new tournament rules the Canadian Champions will find themselves in Pot B. The changes also mean that TFC will no longer have to navigate a qualification round and will instead be drawn directly into one of the 8 groups of 3 teams.
The good news about all the changes is that it drastically reduces the number of games that will be added to each teams schedule. Gone is are the two qualification round games and the group stage is also two games shorter. It may not seem like a lot but in an already crowded season four less games can make a massive difference and actually makes the tournament more appealing to MLS clubs.
The bad news is that now only the 8 group winners will get to advance to the quarterfinal round. There is no more chance to advance by coming in second and with fewer group games that really puts the pressure on do to well in each and every match. Add to that the change in the way that the pots can be drawn which is sure to cause some confusion and controversy.Under the new rules for the selection of groups it is impossible for a Mexican team and an American team to be drawn in to the same group. So with both countries having four representatives that means there will be either a Mexican or American team in every group. If you look at that from a TFC perspective, or other potential Canadian Champions in future years, it means they are guaranteed to have to get past either another MLS side or a top Mexican side.
For the upcoming edition Toronto will be the second seed in a group that will include one of the following four teams: Tigres de la UANL (2011 Apertura Champion), Santos Laguna (2012 Clausura Champion), LA Galaxy (2011 MLS Cup and Supporters Shield Champions), or Seattle Sounders (2011 US Open Cup Champions and Supporters Shield runners-up.
Any of those four teams would represent a very difficult challenge but at least three out of the four would represent a familiar opponent. In the cases of the Galaxy and Santos Laguna they are teams that TFC has already met in CCL action this season with the Reds performing well against both. UANL is a bit more of an unknown for the club as this is their first appearance in the competition but any trip to the Monterrey area of Mexico will surely be tough.
The group will then be rounded out by one of the teams from Pot C. This time around all 8 teams will be an option to be drawn into the group. The teams in Pot C are: Municipal (Guatemala), Tauro (Panama), Aguila (El Salvador), Real Esteli (Nicaragua), C.D. FAS (El Salvador), and the 3 Caribbean teams yet to be decided.
All of the teams in the final pot are ones that TFC should be able to beat both home and away but as we have seen in previous years a trip to the Caribbean or Central America is not always the easiest task even when you are taking on a weaker team.
On paper the task for TFC will be simple: find a way to get the better of one of the top Mexican or American teams. It was never going to be easy to win a group in the Champions League so complaining about the changes to the format and suggesting the favour Mexican and American teams is valid but really not worth wasting your breath on. If you want to be the best you have to beat the best after-all.
For interest sake here are the full pots as they now stand:
|UANL||Santos Laguna||Los Angeles Galaxy||Seattle Sounders|
|Guadalajara||Monterrey||Houston Dynamo||Real Salt Lake|
|Alajuelense||Marathón||Isidro Metapán||Toronto FC|
|FAS||Caribbean 1||Caribbean 2||Caribbean 3|