New Format for Champions League, a Much Needed Change

For the last 11 CONCACAF Champions League tournaments, Liga MX teams have dominated and owned the Champions League. Costa Rica’s Saprissa won it in 2005 making it the last non-Mexican team to take home the crown. Kudos for Liga MX, but this dominance has prohibited other CONCACAF teams from experiencing the FIFA Club World Cup. Don’t get me wrong, MLS has come close to wining it over the last two tournaments but always seem to come up short when it comes to the knockout stages.

Although we will have to wait for these changes as they are coming in the 2017/2018 version of the tournament. Having the format changed is a great move by CONCACAF because results like those above only hinder the progress of the region. I remember going to a group stage match and it was only until the final 20 minutes did both sides sub in meaningful players. It almost seems that most teams used to wait until they were in the final two stages of the knockout rounds until they put their starters on the pitch.

In the previous format the group stage occurred from August to October and then restarted in February. As you can see some MLS squads suffered a 4 month layoff only to head into the knock out stage with little preparation and not match fit. While Liga MX teams had the ability to alter their squads in between Apertura and Clausura campaigns with the added benefit of building healthy squads for the tournament. (The Apertura occurs from July to December and the Clausura from January to May) Again, not to make any excuses but you can see the advantages that Liga MX has especially with their unique two tournament format. Teams are match fit and have the ability to adjust their rosters respectively.

In the new format the teams will go into the tournament with a desire to win, ultimately leading to a bigger following from us fans. The tournament will not become the UEFA Champions League anytime soon, but having a fan base that can follow a tournament with a format that is geared for our region and for all leagues in CONCACAF will only benefit the viewership. Its important for the tournament to evolve into a competition that is respected and watched by not only MLS, Liga MX and regional fans, but fans from around the world. Imagine the day, in the US, when we can watch a pair of UEFA Champions League matches in the morning/afternoon and later in the evening enjoy a second match, coming from the CONCACAF Champions League where the games are exciting and filled with soccer greatness.

Information on the new format:

The introduction of the new tournament opens the door to international competition for additional clubs from the Caribbean and Central America. The runner-up, third- and fourth-place teams from the 2017 Caribbean Club Championship, taking place in the first half of the year, will join 13 Central American qualifiers — 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, determined on aggregate goals, will advance to the quarterfinals, and the home-and-away knockout process continues through October, when a champion of the first phase is crowned.

The champion of the first phase will qualify directly for the second phase, scheduled from February to May of 2018. That club will join 15 others — four Mexico and the United States, one from Canada, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Panama, as well as the 2017 Caribbean Cup campion.

For Central American leagues hosting two, individual annual tournaments that yield two separate champions, the direct qualifier to the second phase of the CONCACAF Champions League will be determined by aggregate-point accumulation over both regular seasons.

Each phase will consist of 30 matches for a total of 60 encounters, which is two less than the current 62. However, the vision is for every game to have significance. With a knockout format, the urgency to win will be greater than ever, which will produce exceptional levels of excitement.

The two finalists from each phase will end up playing eight games rather than the current 10. If the champion of the first phase advances to the final of the second phase, however, it will ultimately play in 16 matches.

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