The changes to the CONCACAF Champions League may have slipped by some due to all the MLS SuperDraft news. The new format breaks into four positives and three negatives. Travel for most clubs will be reduced, for the clubs in the Preliminary Round that advance it can drop by about 10,000 miles through the elimination of two cross-continental trips (there was a scenario last year where Seattle could travel 4700 miles one way in the Group Stage). For MLS and Mexican sides travel is an inconvenience that weakens players' ability to compete. For the tiny clubs in Central America and the Caribbean it can be a huge financial burden compared to simple busing through much smaller home leagues.
As MLS changed it's schedule format to reduce travel as well, there are some times when the schedule can get congested. Eliminating two or four games from the Seattle Sounders, LA Galaxy, Houston Dynamo and Real Salt Lake's summer schedule helps as well. Now the Summer and Fall overlap of 13 weeks only 12 MLS, four CCL and possibly one US Open Cup Final (Aug 7/8) for Seattle. With MLS play only being among the Western Conference during that stretch should result in more training days rather than days sitting in planes and buses.
With only the winner of the mini-groups advancing this raises the importance of every Group Stage game. There's less room for a casual performance. With bye weeks and strong imbalance and no Mexican team to crush everyone, blowing a single game against the lowest pot team could mean elimination.
All three of those benefits were noted by Sigi Schmid yesterday;
It reduces the workload for everybody. It takes everybody from six group games to four group games. Now, out of the six original planned dates now you only have to play in four of those. It relieves a lot of the schedule congestion and so forth... Certainly, the one thing the change will do is it raises the importance of each game. You can’t start slowly in the tournament or have a throwaway game because you’ve only got three left, so you have to make better use of the games. From that standpoint, I think it’s a positive change because I think it brings a greater level of competitiveness into each game and I think it’s also a positive change because it relieves that schedule congestion that was happening to a lot of the teams.
The next benefit is also a disadvantage. Two US MLS teams will be favored, and while one may face Canada they should be strong favorites to make it to the Championship Round. In the other two US/MLS groups there is unlikely to be a clear favorite. They will face fairly strong Central American teams. One favorable result should mean advancement. One poor one will equal elimination. The size of the group favors two teams and hurts two more.
This leads to two other issues. The number of meaningful games with Mexican teams is reduced. Those eight or ten showdowns between the dominant league in the region and MLS are gone. It is little benefit that when they do meet more will be on the line. And while every game within three team groups is more important, the chance that a "not best" team advances increases. One wacky result changes the whole dynamic of the Group Stage.
In any sort of playoff or championship the structure should encourage that the best team wins while also maintaining financial viability. As happened with the MLS schedule and Playoffs those two things compete to some degree due to the massive travel distances involved, particularly with financial issues dominating CONCACAF nations. Both cases are banking on the idea that less travel should increase quality of play. Fans just have to hope the executives are right.
For an early look at possible pairings please see the FanPost by exSlacker.