One of my favorite soccer competitions of the year is upon us. The Concacaf Champions League (a/k/a CCL) pits teams from MLS, Liga MX, and Central American/Caribbean leagues against each other to determine the continental champion.
The winner represents Concacaf at the FIFA Club World Cup! This is never an MLS team!
Teams from Mexico’s domestic league have won the past 14 competitions (some of those predating the “Concacaf Champions League” branding), and American sides haven’t won since 2000 (LA Galaxy), and only one other time (DC United in 1998). Needless to say, part of the excitement about CCL on this side of the Rio Grande comes from the pursuit of the unattainable for an MLS team – Toronto FC lost on penalties in 2018, the closest anyone has come since the Galaxy’s victory.
“Is this the year?” becomes the common refrain, because… well, it hasn’t yet been “the year,” and we’ll keep saying it until that does happen.
Who’s representing MLS in 2020?
There are various routes to qualification for teams from Major League Soccer.
Since this is a competition of club teams from specific countries, the easiest one to determine is the Canadian representative: Montreal Impact, Toronto FC, and Vancouver Whitecaps can only qualify under the current rules by winning the Voyageur’s Cup (the Canadian version of the US Open Cup). If a lower-division side wins that competition – it hasn’t happened since the Impact and Whitecaps (the only non-TFC teams ever to win it) were in USL – then no Canadian representation from MLS is available. There’s been some talk of allowing Canadian teams to qualify through other methods, about which more in a moment, but for the time being that’s their only route.
American teams qualify through a few automatic mechanisms: the winner of the US Open Cup is the analogue of the Voyageur’s Cup winner for US Soccer, and earns an automatic bid.
In Major League Soccer, the MLS Cup Champion automatically qualifies, as long as that team is from the United States. The Supporter’s Shield winner – best regular-season record – also qualifies, again assuming that team comes from south of the border. A fourth bid goes to the regular-season champion of the conference that is not the Supporter’s Shield winner. If any of those “automatic” distinctions belongs to a Canadian club, the next best American team (by regular-season record) picks up qualification.
In 2020, those automatic bids are distributed as follows:
|Seattle Sounders FC||MLS Cup Champion|
|Atlanta United||US Open Cup Champion|
|Montreal Impact||Canadian Cup Champion|
|Los Angeles FC||Supporter’s Shield winner|
|New York City FC||MLS Eastern Conference champion|
LAFC and Atlanta United – with less offseason shakeup than the other three (but still a lot!) – are considered the top two opportunities for Major League Soccer to break its ignominious streak.
The format and schedule
The teams that have made it this far (Central American and Caribbean teams have had extended qualification processes) are drawn into a 16-team bracket. There were two pots, with all Mexican (except León), American, and Canadian Teams in Pot A, to be drawn against Pot B (other than León, the Central American and Caribbean) teams.
That means, if all Pot A teams were to win, you’d have only MLS and Liga MX teams remaining past round one.
The matchups are as follows:
- Cruz Azul (Mexico) @ Portmore United (Jamaica) – Tonight, 7 p.m. CST. Second leg next Tuesday, 9 p.m. CST
- Atlanta United @ Motagua (Honduras) – Tonight, 9 p.m. CST. Second leg next Tuesday, 7 p.m. CST
- LAFC @ León (Mexico) – Tonight, 9 p.m. CST. Second leg next Tuesday, 9 p.m. CST
- Tigres UANL @ Alianza (El Salvador) – Tomorrow, 7 p.m. CST. Second leg next Wednesday, 7 p.m. CST
- Montreal Impact @ Saprissa (Costa Rica) – Tomorrow 7 p.m. CST. Second leg next Wednesday 7 p.m. CST
- Club América (Mexico) @ Comunicaciones (Guatemala) – Tomorrow, 9 p.m. CST. Second leg next Wednesday, 9 p.m. CST
- New York City FC @ San Carlos (Costa Rica) – Thursday, 7 p.m. CST. Second leg next Thursday, 5 p.m. CST
- Seattle Sounders @ CD Olimpia (Honduras) – Thursday, 9 p.m. CSt. Second leg next Thursday, 9 p.m. CST
All of the games are on Fox Networks: the majority (including tonight’s Cruz Azul and LAFC contests) are on FS2, while the rest are pushed either down to Fox Soccer Plus (unfortunately including tonight’s Atlanta United game) or up to FS1.