By Andrew Sartorius
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CONCACAF’s New Look Club Championship
For once, CONCACAF’s corrupt and inept leader, Jack Warner, has made an intelligent decision: starting in 2008-2009 season, CONCACAF will decide its champions using a 24-team tournament, the CONCAFAC Champions’ League, similar in format to the UEFA Champions League and AFC Champions Cup. For the past thirty years, the federation had used the CONCAFAC Champions Cup, outdated home-and-away knockout with eight teams, to determine its champion.
However, in the 21st century, where football has become a global game and other federations such as UEFA and AFC have moved away from home-and-away knockout and towards small group stages followed by knockouts, CONCACAF finally realized it was time for a change. However, many will be wondering why the North American federation was fifteen years slower than its European counterpart and five years slower than its Asian counterpart in making changes to its top club tournament.
In the tournament’s revamped look, representatives will be drawn from all over North America, Central America and Caribbean. The largest representatives will be the United States and Mexico with four teams, followed by three Caribbean teams that will be decided through the Caribbean Football Union Championship. Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Panama will each enter two teams while Canada, Belize, and Nicaragua will send one team. The tournament will begin with a 16-team home-and-away preliminary round. The eight winning teams will advance to the group stages along with two seeded teams from the United States and Mexico and one seeded team from Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. In the group stages, the teams will play each other home and away with the top two teams advancing. After a knockout stage, the finals will be played over legs in late April. As with the old Champions Cup, the winner of the Champions League will qualify for the Club World Championship that is held in December (this year’s representative, Pachuca FC, qualified through the final Champions Cup). Although smaller in stature than UEFA and AFC, CONCACAF’s Champions League is certainly an improvement on the Champions Cup.
In terms of MLS involvement, the league will be represented by the 2007 winners of the MLS Cup (Houston Dynamo), the runner-up of MLS Cup (New England Revolution), the MLS regular season champions (D.C. United), and the winner of the U.S. Open Cup (Chivas USA). (Note: since New England also won the Open Cup, Chivas USA, who finished second in the MLS Regular Season, takes the slot). The two unseeded teams that will participate in the preliminary round are New England and Chivas USA. New England will travel to Port-of-Spain to play Trinidad and Tobago’s champions, Joe Public FC, on September 16, 2008. Says Revolution director of soccer Mike Burns about the game, “We’re approaching the preliminaries very seriously. We don’t know a ton about them, but over the next few months, we’ll do the work we need to find out. The Champions League is a tournament we want to win” (Goal.com). On the same day, Chivas USA will play out a potentially tricky tie against seven-time Panamanian champions, Tauro FC, in Panama City, Panama. Tauro’s roster, which includes well-known on the international scene such as Luis Moreno combined with young starlets such as Edwin Aguilar, should prove a stern test for the Los Angeles based team.
The new format of the Champions League will certainly beneficial to American clubs. Thanks to the switch in the starting date of the tournament from early March to September, MLS clubs will now be playing some of the early group stage matches in the middle of the season as opposed to the off season. However, if MLS teams progress past the group stages, they will be forced to continue playing into the off season. No MLS team has won a CONCACAF championship since 2000, when the Los Angeles Galaxy took home the Champions Cup. Before that, the only other team to win the cup was D.C. United in 1998.
Preliminary Round Draw For CONCACAF Champions League (first team listed hosts first leg)
CD Municipal or Deportivo Jalapa (GUA) – San Francisco FC (PAN)
Joe Public FC (TNT) – New England Revolution (USA)
LD Alajuelense (CRC) – Puerto Rico Islanders (PRC)
Cruz Azul (MEX) – Hankook Verdes (BLZ)
Harbour View FC (JAM) – Pumas UNAM (MEX)
Tauro FC (PAN) – Chivas USA (USA)
“Canadian Champion” (CAN) – “Nicaraguan Champion” (NIC)
CD Isidro Metapan (SLV) – CD Olimpia or CD Marathon (HON)
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