CONCACAF Champions League changes overshadowed by 2012 MLS Draft

Yes I still want this trophy.

Well I understand that US and Canada aren't the only nations in CONCACAF, you have to admit their timing of announcing huge changes to the Champions League tournament on the same day as the MLS Draft either shows a lack of understanding or a lack of respect. In either case the reality is that MLS teams in both Canada and the United States are waking up to a very different Champions League than what they have faced in the past.

Gone are the qualification matches, now instead of starting the group stages with 16 teams (4 groups of 4) after the qualification matches, all 24 teams will enter the group stages. Now there will be 8 groups with 3 teams each, and only the winner of each group will advance to the knockout rounds. Also each group will have just one US or one Mexican team in it, this means that for US teams the trips could be harder as far as travel to Central America and the Caribbean, but perhaps easier on pitch competition.

The groups will break down like this:

The teams will be distributed into three categories for purposes of the draw as follows:

Category 1: Mexico 1 & 2, USA 1 & 2, Costa Rica 1, Guatemala 1, Honduras 1, Panama 1

Category 2: Mexico 3 & 4, USA 3 & 4, Canada 1, Costa Rica 2, El Salvador 1, Honduras 2

Category 3: Belize 1 (pending approval of suitable stadium), El Salvador 2, Guatemala 2, Nicaragua 1, Panama 2, Caribbean Football Union 1, 2 & 3

So with the rules of just one US or Mexican team in each group we know that RSL will face the top team from either Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, or Panama from Category 1, and then a team from either Belize, El Salvador, or the Caribbean Football Union.

There are also fewer group stage matches, now just 4 matches instead of 6, which could really help the MLS teams out with travel arrangements. The group stage matches will be played between July 31 and ending by October 25. RSL has just 4 league matches in August, 4 in September, and just 2 in October so clearly the busy start of the MLS season will be a good thing as RSL gets a bit of a break during the Champions League schedule.

The four MLS teams heading into CCL action for 2012/13 will be USA 1 - LA Galaxy, USA 2 - Seattle Sounders, USA 3 - Houston Dynamo, and USA 4 - Real Salt Lake.

The official press release after the jump:

CONCACAF ANNOUNCES CHANGES TO CHAMPIONS LEAGUE

NEW YORK (Thursday, January 12, 2012) - The Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) announced today changes to the format of the CONCACAF Champions League.

Beginning with the 2012/2013 edition, the fifth in the competition's history, the Preliminary Round will be eliminated and all 24 participating teams will enter the competition in the Group Stage. In the previous four tournaments, 16 teams met in eight Preliminary Round pairings with the series winners joining eight-seeded teams in the Group Stage.

"This new format will streamline the first phase of the competition," said Ted Howard, CONCACAF's acting general secretary. "It will alleviate schedule congestion on both domestic and international calendars."

Under the new structure, the Group Stage will consist of eight groups of three teams.

The teams will be distributed into three categories for purposes of the draw as follows:

Category 1: Mexico 1 & 2, USA 1 & 2, Costa Rica 1, Guatemala 1, Honduras 1, Panama 1

Category 2: Mexico 3 & 4, USA 3 & 4, Canada 1, Costa Rica 2, El Salvador 1, Honduras 2

Category 3: Belize 1 (pending approval of suitable stadium), El Salvador 2, Guatemala 2, Nicaragua 1, Panama 2, Caribbean Football Union 1, 2 & 3

Teams from the same country cannot be drawn together unless one is a wildcard replacing a team from a country without a suitable venue. Additionally, there will be a team from Mexico or the USA in each of the eight groups.

The new Group Stage, comprised of 48 matches, will be played over six weeks instead of eight, starting on July 31 and ending by October 25.

Only the eight group winners will advance to the Championship Round, which will remain unchanged with quarterfinal, semifinal and final series being played in a two-leg, home-and-home system. Under the current format, group winners and runners-up progressed to the knock-out phase.

The 2011/2012 Champions League resumes on March 6 with the start of quarterfinal play.

About CONCACAF
CONCACAF "The Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football" is one of six continental confederations of FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) and serves as the governing body of football in this part of the world. It is composed of 40 national associations, from Canada in the north to Guyana, Surinam and French Guyana in the south.

Folks I think these are good changes for RSL, as hopefully we will be able to take advantage of the new format to win our group and move on to the knock out stages.

OFF MY SOAPBOX

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