Monday, January 28, 2008

CONCACAF Champions League has arrived

Welcome to the brand new CONCACAF Champions League. Concacaf has announced the plans and dates for the first CCL starting this September. Twenty-four teams in total will participate in the inaugural go around. There will be four teams each from the USA's Major League Soccer and Mexico's First Division, three Caribbean sides, two from Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama; and one coming from Canada, Belize, and Nicaragua.

The tournament is comprised of three phases, qualification, group and knockout. Eight teams will earn seeds directly into the group phase (2 from USA, 2 from Mexico, 1 each from Costa Rica, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador), while the 16 other teams will be paired off in eight home-home series. The winner of the series will advance to the group stages.

The group stage will consist of four groups of four, with the groups playing each other in a home-home round-robin system for a total of six games each. The top two teams from each group will advance to the knockout stage.

The knockout group will consist three home-home elimination rounds, including the final. The winner of everything will advance to the 2009 FIFA Club World Cup.

Here is the schedule:
End July: All qualification completed, draw for preliminary round
26-28 August: Preliminary Round, First-legs
2-4 September: Preliminary Round, Second-legs
Group Stage
Early September: Group Stage Schedule Announced
16-18 September: Group Stage – Match Day 1
23-25 September: Group Stage – Match Day 2
30 September – 2 October: Group Stage – Match Day 3
7-9 October: Group Stage – Match Day 4
21-23 October: Group Stage – Match Day 5
28-30 October: Group Stage – Match Day 6

Knockout Round
24-26 February: Quarterfinals, First-legs
3-5 March: Quarterfinals, Second-legs
17-19 March: Semifinals, First-legs
7-9 April: Semifinals, Second-legs
21-23 April: Final, First-leg
28-30 April: Final, Second-leg
December: FIFA Club World Cup

It is interesting how much this schedule does not favor MLS teams. With a large number of the group games coming during the final few weeks of the season, clubs may need to make difficult decisions on players, especailly when it comes to travel.

If clubs do make it into the knockout round, they will face the same issue teams face with the current CONCACAF Champions Cup, in that MLS will be in pre-season training four up to three of their very important games. Then again, if MLS ever switched over to international scheduling (playing Aug-May), this would solve these issues, but that's not happening anytime soon.

Also, if I am reading this correctly, Toronto FC will not be eligible for a slot via MLS and will instead have to qualify via some sort of Canadian Cup.

Overall, this is progress and I like the looks of it. For 2008, it will cram even more games onto the schedule of top teams (the Champions Cup is still happening as is SuperLiga), but overall, it is hard to argue against international games.

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