Concacaf announced a new format for its flagship regional club competition on Thursday. Beginning in 2023, the Concacaf Champions League will be expanded to include a regional group stage of 50 teams in the fall, with a 16-team knockout stage to be played in the spring.
The group stage will consist of four groups of five North American clubs, four groups of five Central American clubs, and two groups of five Caribbean clubs.
“This is a hugely important development for Concacaf and for club football in our region. The Concacaf Champions League has grown impressively in recent years, but this new format will transform the competition and significantly increase its relevance throughout our confederation and globally,” said Concacaf President and FIFA Vice President, Victor Montagliani.
The North American contingent will consist of clubs from Canada, Mexico and the United States, who will qualify through their performance in domestic leagues and cup competitions, which will now include one qualification slot through the Leagues Cup.
Similarly for the Central American and Caribbean participants, qualification will come through their domestic leagues, with additional spots coming from newly-formed Central American and Caribbean cup competitions.
Each team will play four group stage matches, split evenly home and away. The top two teams from each group will advance automatically, with three additional teams qualifying via a play-in round.
Of the 20 North American teams to qualify, Sports Business‘s Bob Williams reports that 17 will come through the US and Mexico, with three coming from Canada. However, the three Canadian sides that compete in MLS will be able to qualify directly through MLS, a departure from past editions. This opens the door for teams from the Canadian Premier League to more easily qualify.
While rumors that the USL Championship could be involved in the Champions League circulated earlier this year, Montagliani clarified in a conference call that the USL will not receive an automatic spot, leaving the US Open Cup as their only means to qualification.
On one hand, expanding the format will mean more MLS clubs involved, and ideally increase the perception of the competition within the US, leading to more viewers and additional revenue.
The regionalized group stage structure will also cut down on travel. Since the group stage takes place in the fall, in the final stages of the MLS season, adding trips to Central America and the Caribbean was an added burden to clubs in the home stretch of their domestic season.
On the other hand, though, the regionalized group format will likely lead to more MLS-versus-MLS matches. Historically, MLS sides haven’t always devoted all their energy to the group stages of the competition, more concerned with qualifying for the playoffs. Potential all-MLS matchups could see both sides field a team of reserve players in an attempt to save energy for the league.
A team from Major League Soccer has yet to win the Concacaf Champions Leauge. Three MLS sides have made it to the final in the past six seasons, but none have been able to win the trophy. Toronto FC fell to Chivas in a penalty kick shootout in 2018, while LAFC lost to UANL in the most recent edition of the tournament.