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Concacaf Champions League announces massive expansion

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Group Stage is back, too.

The Concacaf Champions League is preparing for a rather significant expansion, it was announced on Thursday. There still aren’t details with how many, or exactly how, MLS sides will qualify for the latest update to the CCL, but they will be in the regional pool with a total of 20 North American entries from Mexico, the United States, and Canada. The new format will begin in the fall of 2023 with a group stage and then progress to a 16-team knockout stage in spring of 2024

No, the Leagues Cup isn’t going anywhere. That’s a new twist from Concacaf, as the secondary competition between Liga MX and MLS will have its winner qualify. They other 19 slots will be distributed through league finish and each nation’s cup competitions. At this time there is no word if USL or Mexico’s second division (Liga de Expansión MX) will qualify.

The 20 teams from North America, 20 from Central America, and 10 from the Caribbean will all play two home games and two away games in the group stage. The top two teams from each North American group will advance with three more teams entering a play-in round to qualify for the 16-team knockout stage that will consist of three home-and-away rounds before a single-leg final. Central American group winners would advance to the knockout round. The Caribbean group winners will face off in a play-in round to make knockouts.

Although two spots will be reserved for Canadian Premier League teams, ESPN confirmed the only way for USL teams to qualify will be through the U.S. Open Cup.

Confused? Here’s a handy graphic to help.

This new CCL is again set up for North America to dominate. The big money leagues will potentially populate 11 of the 16 knockout round spots, three more than they do now.

Yes, that’s a lot more soccer for more teams than ever before. A high-quality MLS side over a two-year stretch from 2022 to 2024 might be participating in the regular season, Open Cup, Leagues Cup, and Concacaf Champions League, all while international players are also participating in a World Cup, Gold Cup, Nations League, and friendlies. From 2023 onward, a team like the Sounders could potentially play 11 CCL games a year — four in the group stage and as many as seven in the knockout round — in addition to U.S. Open Cup and Campeones Cup.

The last time CCL included a group stage was in 2016-17 when groups were comprised of three teams. From 2008-12, CCL included four-team groups. Under both formats, teams played double round-robins that included home and away matches against each team in the group. Prior to 2008-09, there was the Concacaf Champions Cup which was usually played at a single location.

Seattle Sounders FC have qualified for the CCL six times, with their best finish being a semifinal run in 2012. They were the second MLS team to win a match in Mexico, doing so in Monterrey, just a week after FC Dallas became the first. Sounders are also one of the rare MLS sides to beat Liga MX sides in the old Group Stage. The USL Seattle Sounders were the first-ever American side to make the Concacaf Champions Cup, in the 1996 competition (which was played in 1997). They had a massive 10-0 win over Transvaal, before getting blown away in the Group Stage.

No MLS side has won a CCL, with D.C. United and Los Angeles Galaxy winning during the CCC version of the event. Real Salt Lake, under Garth Lagerwey’s management, the Montreal Impact, Toronto FC and Los Angeles FC have all qualified for CCL finals.