TORONTO – A theoretical conundrum may rear it’s head for the first time this season.
With Toronto FC and the Seattle Sounders set to meet in the 2019 MLS Cup final on Sunday at CenturyLink Field in Seattle (3 pm ET | ABC, Univision, TUDN in US; TVAS, TSN in Canada), it is possible that the MLS champion will not be in the Concacaf Champions League next season.
As a Canadian club playing in a North American league, Toronto’s only route to the regional tournament is through the annual Canadian Championship, which the club lost in September after a shootout against the Montreal Impact. With the home side winning each leg 1-0, the series was decided from the penalty spot where the Impact won 3-1.
That means if Toronto win MLS Cup, they won't qualify for CCL in 2020.
“It would be interesting to have a champion not be in Champions League,” said TFC coach Greg Vanney on Monday. “For us as a club, we’d like to have more than just one way to get in, but that’s where it’s at for now. Our job is to try to go win the championship this weekend and figure all that out later.”
In 2016 and 2017, the two previous MLS Cup finals where TFC and the Sounders met, this hiccup was a moot point as the Canadian side had already lifted the Voyageurs Cup – although due to the restructuring of the CCL format, Toronto were at risk of having to compete in a special playoff for their spot in the 2018 Champions League against the 2017 CanChamp winner, had they not won both.
As it stands, LAFC, NYCFC, Atlanta United FC, and Seattle will be the MLS entrants into the 2020 edition as Supporters’ Shield champions, Eastern Conference regular season champions, U.S. Open Cup champions, and Seattle, as either MLS Cup champions or best U.S. team from the regular season not yet qualified, while Montreal will represent Canada.
TFC are left out in the cold.
Complicating matters from TFC's point of view is that spots in the Concacaf competition are awarded not to leagues, but to national federations, who then decide how to parcel out slots. U.S. Soccer have four slots, while Canada Soccer have one.
Justin Morrow doesn’t care if any of that is awkward.
“Should we win,” he stated, “we should be getting a CCL spot.”
But Toronto don’t get to make that decision.
“If only I could make the rules also,” began Quentin Westberg. “It is weird, but right now I don’t really care, to be very honest.”
They have bigger fish to fry.
“We have Seattle that’s waiting for us. 70,000 people that are ready to root against us. This is all the excitement I can get,” the goalkeeper continued. “Champions League or not, this or not, these questions are not really what we think about right now.”