Champions League reforms take effect from the 2024 season
After announcing the format for the CONCACAF Champions League starting in 2024 last September, CONCACAF released more information on how the clubs will qualify for the reformed tournament. With regional competitions taking place in the fall portion of the season, the main part of the tournament will occur in the latter half of the season, from January to April.
Here is the breakdown of which clubs will qualify from each region and where they start.
North America (NAFU)
A grand total of 18 teams will hail from North America in the main tournament, with 6-9 clubs from Mexico, 6-9 from the US, and 3-6 from Canada. Of course, the exact number of representatives from each country will depend on the top three teams from the expanded Leagues Cup.
Starting in the second half of 2023, the clubs from MLS and Liga MX will partake in a World Cup-style tournament to claim three places to the Champions League in 2024. This will take place annually at roughly the same part of the year. Each league will stop their league season for a month for the expanded tournament to take place. The winners, finalists, and third place team will earn a berth to the Champions League.
As for Canada, there will be three guaranteed places for its clubs in the expanded Champions League. The Canadian Premier League regular season winners will be joined by the playoff champions. Should the same team win both, then the next best team in the regular season will also qualify. The Canadian Championship winner will join the two clubs, unless that side qualifies domestically and/or via the Leagues Cup. The next best team in the national cup competition not already in will take that spot instead.
In the US, there will be at least five MLS sides that will qualify via domestic competition. The MLS Cup playoff winners will enter the Champions League, along with the conference champions and the next two best teams in the regular season not already assured of a place. It is worth noting that the three Canadian teams (Toronto FC, CF Montreal and Vancouver Whitecaps) can now also earn a place in the region’s premier club competition via MLS performance.
The other American place goes to the US Open Cup winner (or finalist if the winner already qualified through other means). If both finalists make the tournament, then the next best MLS team from the regular season will join.
Mexico will have its six places all be given to Liga MX sides. The finalists in the Apertura and the Clausura will all earn a berth. Joining them will be the two best teams in the aggregate table not already qualified.
Central America (UNCAF) and Caribbean (CFU)
Both the Central America and Caribbean regions will also contain qualifying tournaments to make up the final nine places (six for the former, three for the latter) in the Champions League. Like the Leagues Cup, the qualifying tournaments will happen in the fall portion of the campaign. Both associations will feature a group stage and knockout tournament with four groups of five in the UNCAF group stage and two groups of five in the CFU.
In both regional competitions the top two teams will move on following group play, with each team facing the others in their group once each. In Central America, the losing quarterfinalists will be paired for a play-in round, with the winners of that joining the semifinalists in the CONCACAF Champions League. As for the Caribbean equivalent, the teams that make the final along with the winner of the third place playoff will take the place in the continental tournament.
The 18 teams that would qualify for the present day CONCACAF League from Central America will now enter this new tournament instead at the group stage. That includes three clubs from Honduras, Panama, Guatemala, El Salvador and Costa Rica, two from Nicaragua, and one from Belize. The last two places in the group stage of the UNCAF tournament is yet to be decided.
In the Caribbean, the eight teams that would partake in the CFU Caribbean Club Championship will now start in this updated version. Those eight clubs will hail from Jamaica, Haiti, Dominican Republic, and Trinidad and Tobago (two each). The final two places in the group stage is unknown, but will likely feature teams from other countries in the area that currently play in the CFU Caribbean Club Shield.
New CONCACAF Champions League format
The format of the Champions League in 2024 will have a total of 27 clubs, five of which will get a bye to the round of 16. The other 22 sides will play in the preliminary round. Every round of the tournament bar the final will be played over two legs, with the showpiece occurring on a weekend at a predetermined location.
The five teams that automatically qualify for the round of 16 will include the regional cup winners (Leagues Cup, UNCAF and CFU) as well as the MLS Cup winner and the best Liga MX team (Apertura and/or Clausura winner).
In the most recent edition of the CONCACAF Champions League, the Seattle Sounders ended up taking the honours, becoming the first American team to lift the trophy. That broke Mexico’s dominance in the tournament, winning every title before that.
The new Champions League tournament will provide more games for more teams across the region. While there is still some information to be confirmed before kicking off in 2024, there is much to be excited about in the expanded tournament.