The CONCACAF Champions League (CCL, for short) is an annual competition contested by the best club teams from around North and Central America and the Caribbean (as opposed to national teams, such as in the recently-concluded Gold Cup), including those from MLS and Mexico’s Liga MX.
International club soccer has a long history in the region, with the first championship held in 1962, but the CCL has only existed since 2008, with the new format and branding increasing the competition’s reputation and recognition.
Who plays in the CCL?
The CCL field is composed of 24 teams in its current format, including four from the United States, one from Canada and four from Mexico. The top two teams from Costa Rica, Honduras, Guatemala, Panama and El Salvador, the top team from Belize and Nicaragua, and three Caribbean teams round out the field.
These aren’t MLS games – why do they matter?
The CCL is an increasingly prestigious tournament that not only brings regional bragging rights and recognition, but a spot in the annual FIFA Club World Cup – a year-end tournament contested by the winners of all the continental championships, including the UEFA Champions League and South America’s Copa Libertadores.
In 2013, MLS Commissioner Don Garber reiterated how important the tournament was for MLS in its push to become one of the top leagues in the world. “I think the opportunity for an MLS team to win the Champions League in this region and go to the World Club Championship to compete against some of the best clubs in the world is an important goal,” he said.
How does the tournament work?
The 24 teams are divided up into eight groups of three. Each team in the group plays the other two teams both home and away, for a total of four games for each team between early August and late October. Teams earn three points for a win, one for a draw and none for a loss. The top team in each of the eight groups will advance to the quarterfinals.
The quarterfinals take place in the spring of the following year, and here’s how it will all shake out: The teams will be seeded based on the number of points they earn during group play and then paired off accordingly for a home-and-home series. The winner of the series will be the team that scores more goals over the two games, with goals scored away from home serving as the tiebreaker. That format will stay the same for the semifinals and final.
Has an MLS team ever won the CCL?
An MLS team has never won the CCL. D.C. United (1998) and the LA Galaxy (2000) both won CCL’s predecessor, the CONCACAF Champions’ Cup.
Two MLS teams have come close to winning the CCL since the tournament changed name and format in 2008. Real Salt Lake was the first, falling by one goal in the final to Mexican side Monterrey in the 2010-11 tournament. The Montreal Impact were the most recent MLS finalists, taking a lead into the second half of the second leg in the 2014-2015 final before succumbing to Club América.