CONCACAF revealed Monday details of an expansion to its international club competition structure with the addition of a new tournament, accompanied by a new format for the CONCACAF Champions League.
The expanded CONCACAF club competitions platform will feature 31 club teams – increased from 24 -- beginning with the 2017/18 season. Sixteen clubs from countries around the region, including Canada, Mexico and the United States, Central America and the Caribbean, will compete in a concentrated CONCACAF Champions League to be disputed between February and May of each year.
Additionally, starting in August 2017, sixteen clubs from Central America and the Caribbean will participate in a new tournament, which will conclude in October.
The expanded club competitions platform is designed to broaden participation of clubs in international competition, while increasing the competitiveness and relevance of all matches by seeding participating teams into two separate tournaments, each of which will crown an annual champion.
“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,” said CONCACAF President Victor Montagliani. “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 revamped club competitions framework, allowing for a less congested schedule for all participating clubs, features two distinct tournaments which each crown a champion – an August to October championship featuring qualified teams from Central America and the Caribbean, and the February to May Champions League featuring top clubs from across the region, including Liga MX and Major League Soccer.
Countries and sub-regions will be assigned to participate in each of the two tournaments based on a competition index created by CONCACAF, which takes into account regional and national leagues' success in the Champions League over the past nine seasons, since the group-phase format was introduced.
In order to increase the overall amount of relevant games for fans and clubs and compact the championship schedule to avoid overburdening participating clubs' schedules, fixtures for both championships will now be contested in home-and-away, direct elimination format. The new Champions League system replaces the previous group-stage-followed-by-knockout-rounds setup that was introduced in 2008.
The initial edition of the newly added championship for Central American and Caribbean qualifiers opens the door to international competition for additional clubs from those sub-regions.
For the new club tournament, runner-up, third, and fourth place teams from the 2017 Caribbean Club Championship, taking place in the first half of the year throughout the Caribbean, will join 13 qualifiers from across the Central American region – two each from Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama, and one from Belize.
Those sixteen teams will be drawn into eight home-and-away fixtures. The winners of the first round series, determined on aggregate goals, will advance to the quarterfinals, and the home-and-away knockout process continues through October with semi-finals and a two-legged final, when a champion is crowned.
The champion of the new club tournament will qualify directly for the Champions League, to be played between February and May of 2018. There, that club will join 15 others – four qualifiers each from Mexico and the United States, the champion of the 2017 Caribbean Club Championship, the Canadian champion, and the overall champions of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Panama.
In the case of Central American leagues hosting two, divided annual tournaments which yield two, different champions, the direct qualifier to the CONCACAF Champions League will be determined by aggregate point accumulation over the two tournaments.
The format of the new Champions League will mirror the first tournament, with eight home-and-away knockout pairings kicking off four rounds, culminating in the home-and-away Grand Final of the CONCACAF Champions League, which provides the Confederation champion with a berth in the FIFA Club World Cup. The league's compact new design and dual-tournament format means all of the Confederation’s teams will be able to contest a full championship in a time period fully within one league season, so clubs can take home a trophy while beginning and ending a Champions League phase with the same group of players.
Clubs that have already qualified for the 2017/18 edition of the 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.
Further information on the new CONCACAF club competitions platform and Champions League format will be revealed in coming weeks. The draw for CONCACAF’s newest tournament addition to the club competition calendar will be held in late May.