CONCACAF made a somewhat confusing announcement on Monday about the future of their largest club tournament. Although the broad format was clear enough — Canadian and American teams will have five of the 16 spots in the 2018 tournament — the particulars of how those teams will qualify was less so.
Sounders GM and President of Soccer Garth Lagerway shed some light on the format during Tuesday’s training session. The Sounders, he said, have qualified for the 2018 tournament. Simple enough, right?
The problem, of course, is what happens to the qualifiers from 2017, who would normally qualify for that 2018 tournament. Here’s what Lagerwey said has been finalized, but not yet announced: “Long story short, the 2019 tournament — which won’t impact us, to be clear — will be some mix of the winners of ‘17 and ‘18. Right now you have four American qualifiers and one Canadian one. You guys can do the math, it’s probably going to be two and two from ‘17 and ‘18. But I’ll leave it to those folks to say it when they want to say.”
To be clear, Lagerwey is suggesting the qualification for the 2019 will be significantly impacted, potentially cutting the number of paths to qualification in half. The MLS Cup winner will almost certainly get one of those spots, and the “other” conference winner will almost surely lose its spot. That leaves one of the U.S. Open Cup and Supporters’ Shield qualification spots as potentially losing out. There’s also likely to be a Canadian champion who doesn’t get to play.
While MLS would probably rather send the Supporters’ Shield winners, U.S. Soccer determines who qualifies, and the Open Cup is the only club tournament it directly oversees. One possible solution would be to take the Shield winners from one season and the Open Cup winners from the other. It’s also possible that there could be some sort of playoff between American qualifiers and Canada could easily do the same with their 2017 and 2018 Voyageurs Cup winners.
Either way, CONCACAF seems to have made a bit of a mess for itself that isn't going to have an easy answer.