Nigel Brooks

CONCACAF announces changes to Champions League format

CONCACAF announced a new format for the Champions League to take effect for the 2017-18 edition of the competition.

Gone are the days of group stage matches for MLS teams, now the four American qualifiers will enter in a 16 team knockout tournament running from February to May. Joining them will be four Mexican teams, one Canadian team, the champions from each of Costa Rica, Honduras, Panama, Guatemala, and El Salvador, the Caribbean Club champions, and the winner of a new 16-team tournament that will run from August to October.

The entrants to the first phase of the tournament bring the total competitors in Champions League to 31 clubs, up from the 24 that currently compete. Countries and sub-regions will be assigned to participate in each of the two tournaments based on a competition index created by CONCACAF, which takes into account regional and national leagues’ success in the Champions League over the past nine seasons, since the group-phase format was introduced.

The format of the new Champions League will mirror the first tournament, with eight home-and-away knockout pairings kicking off four rounds, culminating in the home-and-away Grand Final of the CONCACAF Champions League, which provides the Confederation champion with a berth in the FIFA Club World Cup.  The league’s compact new design and dual-tournament format means all of the Confederation’s teams will be able to contest a full championship in a time period fully within one league season, so clubs can take home a trophy while beginning and ending a Champions League phase with the same group of players.

Currently, the MLS Cup, Supporters Shield, and U.S. Open Cup winners as well as the MLS Cup runners-up qualify for the United States' four entrants. The Dynamo last participated in the continental competition in the 2013-14 edition, finishing second in the group stage. Houston has taken part in Champions League/Champions Cup six times in its history, reaching the semifinals in the 2007 and 2008 Champions Cups as well as the quarterfinals of the 2012-13 Champions League.