Toronto FC’s place in the 2017-18 CONCACAF Champions League is not yet secure.
Due to the reformatting of the Champions League announced in January, TFC will have to either repeat as winners of the Canadian Championship this year or win a one-off playoff match against the new Voyageurs Cup holders in order to book their spot among the 16 qualified teams.
To try and recap those changes as briefly as possible, CONCACAF have decided to send the American, Canadian and Mexican qualifiers straight into what is currently the knockout stage of their tournament, to which an extra round will be added (they’re calling it phase two). There, they will be joined by the winner of the Caribbean Championship and five more teams from Central America and the Caribbean who will have come out of a preliminary round (phase one).
Phase one will take place when the group stage is currently played - so late in 2017 for the 2017-18 tournament - and phase two will start early the following year. This means the teams that qualify from North America in 2017 will start the competition in early 2018, rather than having to wait for the fall 2018 group stage as they do currently.
The problem, of course, is that this creates a lost year - the 2016 qualifiers could not enter in 2017 because the CCL was already underway in its old format, so they get pushed back to 2018... but what do you do then with the teams that qualify in 2017?
In Canada Soccer’s case, the answer is to make the two qualified teams play an extra winner-takes-all match.
That’s going to piss a few people off, which is not really the CSA’s fault - it was CONCACAF, not them, who confidently declared all the currently qualified teams “guaranteed” a place in the new competition when that clearly didn’t make any kind of sense.
The CSA’s solution is pretty simple, and may not even be a problem at all if Toronto can repeat and defend the Voyageurs Cup this summer. What U.S. Soccer is going to do to keep everyone happy is anyone’s guess.
Anyway, that (theoretical) match will be played on August 9 at BMO Field, three days before what could be a big game against the Portland Timbers.
Toronto will start this year’s Canadian Championship against either FC Edmonton or the Ottawa Fury, who will play a two-legged qualifying round to join the three MLS clubs in the semi-finals. TFC will be on the road on May 23 before hosting the return game just over a week later on May 31, with Vancouver taking on Montreal in the other tie.
Also announced are a couple of changes to the Canadian Championship itself. In a bid to get more domestic players in the competition, all teams will be required to include three Canadians in their starting lineups and the CSA has confirmed plans to include the winner of League1 Ontario and Quebec’s Premiere Ligue from 2018 onwards. Both sound good to me.