CONCACAF revamps, expands Champions League format with regional group phase

·3 min read

CONCACAF is revamping and expanding the Champions League, the top-tier club tournament for North and Central America and the Caribbean.

The new format will involved 50 teams, with group play sending 16 on to the final knockout phase of the competition.

From 2023 onwards, the tournament will feature a regionalized group stage to be played in the fall each year. The group stage will feature a total of 20 clubs from Canada, Mexico and the U.S., 20 from Central America and 10 from the Caribbean.

It will be followed by a 16-team knockout stage played in the spring, with the winner representing the region in the FIFA Club World Cup. The knockout stage will feature two-legged series in the round of 16, quarterfinals and semifinals, to be followed by a single-game final.

The current format involves 16 teams, with the tournament traditionally starting in mid-April. Canada usually has one berth, filled by the winner of the annual Canadian Championship. Six teams qualify for the Champions League through the CONCACAF League, a 22-team feeder event with the rest coming from league and cup play.

The tournament has gone through a variety of formats since it was first organized in 1962 as the CONCACAF Champions' Cup. A group stage was done away with prior to the 2018 tournament.

The current format will remain in place for the 2021, 2022 and 2023 editions. CONCACAF says 2023 will be a transition year — with the last edition under the current format played in the spring, prior to the group stage of the new format starting in the fall.

CONCACAF says the 20 clubs from Canada, Mexico and the U.S. will qualify for the revamped Champions League through performance in domestic leagues and cup competitions, including one qualification slot through the Leagues Cup.

The confederation said a specific breakdown for qualification for the new tournament will come later.

The format is known, however, with the 20 clubs from Canada, U.S. and Mexico to be drawn into four groups of five. Each club will play four group stage matches, two home and two away.

The four group winners and runners-up will advance to the tournament's knockout stage. They will be joined by three more North American clubs via a play-in round that will follow the group stage.

In the Central American group stage, 20 clubs from Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama will qualify through their domestic league performance and a new Central American cup competition.

Like the North American field, they will be drawn into four groups of five for the group stage. The four group winners and second-place finishers will qualify for a play-in, with the four winners advancing to the knockout stage.

The Caribbean group stage will feature 10 clubs, with eight qualifying through domestic league play and two through a new Caribbean cup competition.

The 10 clubs will be drawn into two groups of five. Following group stage play, the two group winners will qualify for a play-in match with the winner competing the 16-country field for the CONCACAF Champions League knockout stage.

CONCACAF president Victor Montagliani, a former Canadian Soccer Association president, called the new format a "hugely important development for CONCACAF and for club football in our region."

“It will elevate clubs and leagues throughout CONCACAF with more exciting regional matchups that we know fans want to see," he added. "It will also provide a very competitive pathway to the FIFA Club World Cup as clubs from our region strive to succeed on the international stage."

The current Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League champion is Mexico's Tigres UANL.

CF Montreal (2014-15) and Toronto FC (2018) have both made the finals in the past, each losing to Mexican opposition. The draw for the 2021 edition of the tournament is scheduled for Feb. 10.

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 4, 2021

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press