CONCACAF Champions League, Leagues Cup get makeover

CONCACAF Champions League
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(Editorial)- Today, both CONCACAF, MLS, and Liga MX announced changes that will affect the domestic club calendars across the Confederation. The Leagues Cup between MLS and Liga MX will expand in 2023 to include all 37 teams, in a one-month, world cup style tournament that includes a stoppage in play for both leagues in the summer months. In addition, the winner, runner-up, and third-place finishers will each qualify for the newly formated CONCACAF Champions League debuting in 2024.

CONCACAF Champions League and Leagues Cup get a much-needed overhaul

The breakdown for how teams can qualify for the new iteration of the CONCACAF Champions League will begin in 2023, leading into the 2024 season. For the CCL, there will be a club competition in Central America, for the Central American clubs, that include a group stage and knockout round. The winner, runner-up, losing semifinalists, and two other clubs qualifying through a play-in method will advance to the CCL. The same thing goes for the Caribbean, as their club competition will decide three other spots in the CCL, with the winner, runner-up, and third-place team advancing.

As for the North American Teams’ qualification to the CCL, it gets a little crazy. There will be 6 Liga MX teams, 5 MLS teams, 2 Canadian Premier League teams, the Canadian Cup Winner, US Open Cup winner, and the three top finishers from the Leagues Cup. It gives MLS a possible nine to 10 teams in the competition, as well as LIGA MX.

But if you count that up, you’re looking at a total of 27 places in the Champions League, which doesn’t add up. Well, here is how that will break down:

  • Five of these teams will qualify directly to the Round of 16: MLS Cup Winner, Liga MX Winner, Leagues Cup Winner, Central American Cup Winner, and the Caribbean Cup Winner.
  • The remaining 22 teams will enter a seeded “Round 1” giving 11 winners to qualify to the Round of 16.

Ok so now we have the teams, here are the other “CCL Proper” format notes:

  • All knockout matches will be home and away two-leg series
  • The Final will be a single game matchup
  • The Final will be played on a weekend date for prime attendance and viewing (similar to UCL)

What do these changes bring?

Well, a lot of questions first. There are questions about how all of this will impact MLS, and I say just give them time. We haven’t even finished the 2021 season, and this won’t get rolled out for another two whole years with two teams entering the league still via expansion. But two of the biggest questions that will need to be addressed in time are:

  • How do the roster rules change to allow MLS teams to compete on these many fronts in a more congested calendar? The answer is not a yes or no, it’s an explanation of the changes. There have to be changes made to the league’s roster rules for this to work.
  • What does the MLS play calendar look like? We have MLS, USOC, CCL for up to nine, potentially 10 teams, and the Leagues Cup is going to take up a whole month of league play. Either the season is lengthened in terms of official league calendar days, or the amount of fixtures is reduced. Or even a combination of both. Either way, something’s got to give there.

I don’t have all the answers yet, but in time I think we’ll get them. It would be smart of MLS to have had those ready and in place with the announcement, but expecting MLS to be “thinking ahead of the game” in terms of how things look to the public is, well, non-existent. This is a good thing for MLS, I believe. Because if they don’t change the roster rules to allow for a heavy ability to compete in these competitions, then they’re going to learn the hard way that they need to when it comes to the result of the matches on the field.