Four MLS clubs have already qualified for the 2019 Concacaf Champions League (CCL), now that Atlanta United have joined the Houston Dynamo, Toronto FC and Sporting Kansas City after their 2-1 victory over the Chicago Fire on Sunday.
Concacaf and the US Soccer Federation in January clarified the procedures by which the US-based qualifiers to the CCL are determined, specifically addressing the scenario that was triggered when Toronto FC won the 2017 MLS Cup.
The 2017 MLS Cup winner was automatically slated to qualify for the 2019 Concacaf Champions League, but since Toronto FC, as a Canadian team, were only able qualify for the 2019 CCL by winning the 2018 Canadian Championship, their spot will be taken by the US-based club with most aggregate points over the 2017 and 2018 MLS regular seasons combined. The Five Stripes clinched that spot with their win on Sunday as they have aggregated 124 points over the last two seasons.
“We’re delighted to have qualified for the 2019 Concacaf Champions League and it speaks volumes about our club that we finished with the highest two-year points total in MLS in our first two of years of existence,” said Atlanta United president Darren Eales in a statement. “When we launched this club two years ago, we set high expectations to win championships, compete on a global stage and to extend our brand into international markets. We’re pleased with the progress that has been made and we’re looking forward to competing in this prestigious international tournament next spring.”
The same method will be triggered if a Canadian team wins 2018 MLS Cup, or if a US-based team occupies more than one berth (e.g. if a US-based MLS team wins both the 2018 U.S. Open Cup and 2018 MLS Cup).
Sporting Kansas City were the first US-based team to qualify for the 2019 Champions League by winning the 2017 U.S. Open Cup. They were slated to be joined in the spring of 2019 by the 2017 MLS Cup winner, the 2018 U.S. Open Cup and 2018 MLS Cup winners, as well as the 2018 Canadian Championship winners. But Toronto FC's triumph in the 2017 MLS Cup triggered the contingency explained above.
The Concacaf Champions League is now played in the spring of each year using a format that removed the group stage and reduced the number of participants from 24 teams to 16. Fifteen teams qualify for the CCL based on performance in league and cup play, while the 16th and final berth goes to the winner of the 16-team Concacaf League, played the fall prior to each edition of the Champions League.
MLS qualifiers - 2019 CCL
- Sporting KC (2017 U.S. Open Cup winner)
- Atlanta United (Team with best aggregate record over the 2017 and 2018 MLS regular seasons)
- 2018 MLS Cup winner
- Houston Dynamo (2018 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup winner)
- Toronto FC (2018 Canadian Championship winner)
=This berth was originally designated for the 2017 MLS Cup winner. However, since that team, Toronto FC, may only qualify for the 2019 CCL as the winner of the 2018 Canadian Championship, the berth is re-assigned to the US-based team with the best aggregate record over the 2017 and 2018 MLS seasons.