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CONCACAF Champions League format changes are confirmed

The top competition is getting smaller as part of a larger overall structure.

Toronto FC v Montreal Impact Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images

Changes to the CONCACAF Champions League are coming, but how Toronto FC fit into them still remains unclear.

The Reds seem to be guaranteed some kind of continental football as a result of their victory in last season’s Canadian Championship, per CONCACAF’s news release today, even if it does not come in 2017:

Clubs that have already qualified for the 2017/18 edition of the Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League maintain guaranteed participation in one of the two tournaments of the upcoming club championship season; which tournament is decided based on aggregate results and the indexing of the respective leagues.

What does that actually translate to in reality? Who knows, but there is no obvious solution to the problem of MLS putting two seasons’ worth of qualified teams forward in 2018. MLS says this, with emphasis on ‘currently’:

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.

As we could mostly piece together last week, the Champions League itself is becoming a 16-team knockout tournament heavy on MLS and Liga MX teams. It will run from February to May to solve the problem of MLS clubs having to wait over a year for the knockout stage of the tournament they qualified for.

The tournament will only be two games shorter than the existing format, with an extra two-legged knockout tie compensating for the loss of four group-stage games.

Prior to that - from August to October the previous year and, once again, taking place within a single domestic season rather than crossing over two - 16 clubs from Central America and the Caribbean will participate in a separate tournament. The winner will qualify for the Champions League.

That leaves the Champions League lineup looking like this:

  • Champion of the new tournament (1)
  • Canadian Championship winner (1)
  • Caribbean Club Championship winner (1)
  • Overall (Apertura + Clausura) champions from Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama and El Salvador (5)
  • Champions and runners-up of the Liga MX Apertura and Clausura (4)
  • MLS Cup champion, Supporters’ Shield champion, winner of other conference, US Open Cup champion (4)

Every round will be contested over two legs, with the winner going to the Club World Cup.

“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,” CONCACAF - and Canada Soccer - president Victor Montagliani said.

“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 new schedule is, generally speaking, good news for MLS given how much can change in the period currently between the end of an MLS season and the beginning of the Champions League. That said, there are still obvious imperfections; it doesn’t solve the problem of the league’s clubs playing their first knockout ties in preseason, and May remains an odd time to win what should be the most prestigious trophy on offer.

MLS will probably take that, though, in exchange for four American places in the main competition. It will surely not go down well in, say, Costa Rica, that the US Open Cup winner goes directly into the Champions League but their second-best team doesn’t.