The United States and Canada's first qualifier for the 2020 Concacaf Champions League was determined on Tuesday night, as Atlanta United defeated Minnesota United 2-1 in the 2019 U.S. Open Cup final to book their return to North America's top club competition.
The Five Stripes made their CCL debut earlier this year thanks to their 2018 MLS Cup triumph. ATLUTD overcame a 3-1 first-leg deficit to overwhelm Costa Rica's CS Herediano 5-3 on aggregate in the opening round, then fell to eventual champions CF Monterrey of Mexico by a 3-1 aggregate scoreline in the quarterfinals.
But what about the other four guaranteed slots from MLS? How do those get determined?
As a refresher, one is rewarded to a Canadian club. That is determined by the winner of the Canadian Championship, which will pit Toronto FC and the Montreal Impact against each other in a two-legged affair on Sept. 18 and 25. TFC have raised the last three Voyageurs Cups, while this year marked the first time Canadian Premier League clubs also participated in the competition.
Another berth comes via the 2019 Supporters’ Shield race, which LAFC seem most likely to soon wrap up. Bob Bradley’s team (62 points) has a 14-point lead over Atlanta (48 points) with seven matches left in their historic campaign.There's also a slot given to the MLS Cup champion, with that match slated for Nov. 10 at a to-be-determined site.
The final slot goes to either the Eastern or Western conference regular-season champion, whichever one does not win the Supporters' Shield. That will most likely go to whichever team wins the Eastern Conference this season.
Alongside Mexico, the United States is the only country that’s guaranteed four slots in next year’s Concacaf Champions League. As for MLS, that’s likely five unless upstart Canadian clubs challenge the status quo in years to come.
An MLS club has never won the Concacaf Champions League in its current format, though Toronto (2018), Montreal (2014) and Real Salt Lake (2010) have all made finals this decade.
2020 Concacaf Champions League berths
- U.S. Open Cup winner (Atlanta United)
- Canadian Championship winner (Montreal Impact or Toronto FC)
- Supporters' Shield winner
- Eastern or Western Conference regular-season champion (non-Shield winner)
- MLS Cup champion