Previewing the CONCACAF Champions League

The 2018 CONCACAF Champions League begins this week, and there has been a change in format from previous years. Instead of 24 teams, and a group stage before the knockout rounds, this year, only 16 teams have made it in. Now it will be a straight knockout, with two-legged ties all the way through to the final at the end of April.

With the change to the format, there was also a change to the qualification process. Both Mexico and the USA had four teams qualify, with Canada also having one to make it nine teams from the North America section.

Six teams have qualified from the Central American region. These would normally come from five associations, but Guatemalan teams were excluded from this season’s tournament, which meant Costa Rica got two berths. Panama, El Salvador and Honduras also got a single berth, while the latter also plays host to the winners of the 2017 CONCACAF League, meaning there are two Honduran teams.

The final berth goes to the Caribbean region. The team comes from the Dominican Republic, as the nation plays host to the winners of the 2017 Caribbean Club Championship.

 

MEXICO

The four berths given to Mexican sides are given to the winners and runners-up of the previous year’s Clausura, and the year before’s Apertura. This time round, the winners and runners-up of the 2017 Clausura and 2016 Apertura have qualified for the competition.

The Apertura is the first Championship of the season, and takes place between July and December, and the Clausura takes place between the following January and May. Mexican sides have won the CCL every year since 2006, but only one of the four teams was in the competition last season. Pachuca are the defending Champions, but failed to qualify for this year’s tournament, meaning there will be a new Champions come the end of April.

 

Club América

The first Mexican side in the competition are Club América, the only previous Champions of the CONCACAF Champions League. They are the most successful team in the competition, having won it on seven previous occasions, including back-to-back in 2015 and 2016. They were not in the tournament last year, but come back into it as the 2016 Apertura runners-up

Star Man: Jérémy Ménez, Oribe Peralta, Paul Aguilar

 

C.D. Guadalajara

This is Guadalajara’s second attempt at glory in an international tournament, having been knocked out of the group stage in the 2012-13 CCL. They have qualified for this year’s version of the competition by winning the 2017 Clausura, beating UANL in the final 4-3, on aggregate.

Star Men: Alan Pulido, Jose Juan Vazquez, Orbelin Pineda

 

Tigres UANL

They have been runners-up in the CONCACAF Champions League for the last two seasons, and this year, Tigres UANL will be looking to go one step better. This is their fourth appearance in the tournament, and they, technically, qualified twice. Tigers UANL won the 2016 Apertura, before finishing as the runners-up in the 2017 Clausura.

Star Men: Andre-Pierre Gignac, Eduardo Vargas, Enner Valencia

 

Tijuana

This is also Tijuana’s second shot at international glory, having gone as far as the semi finals in 2013-14. They were beaten by by the eventual Champions, and compatriots, Cruz Azul. They have qualified for the 2018 tournament as the non-finalists with the best regular season record, due to UANL’s wonderful 2016-17 Liga MX season.

Star Men: Pablo Aguilar, Juan Manuel Iturbe, Gustavo Bou

 

UNITED STATES

Four teams qualify from Major League Soccer, depending on results from the year before (in this case, 2016). They are the winner of the MLS Cup, the winner of the Supporters’ Shield, the winner of the Eastern/Western Conference (whichever did not win the Supporters’ Shield), and the winner of the US Open Cup.

The last American side to win the CONCACAF Champions League was LA Galaxy, all the way back in 2000. Since then, Real Salt Lake have been the only finalists, when the lost out to Monterrey back in the 2011 version of the tournament.

 

Colorado Rapids

This will be only the second time the Colorado Rapids have been in the CONCACAF Champions League, having been knocked out of the group stages in the 2011-12 version of the tournament. They have qualified for this year’s tournament as the Supporters’ Shield runners-up, with the place opening up as FC Dallas won both the Supporters’ Shield and US Open Cup in 2016.

Star Man: Tim Howard, Skhëlzen Gashi, Stefan Aigner

 

FC Dallas

Having reached the semi-finals in last year’s competition, FC Dallas will be looking to make the final this time round. They qualified twice for this year’s competition, winning both the MLS Supporters’ Shield, and the US Open Cup back in 2016. This will be their third appearance in the tournament, but they failed to reach the playoffs of the MLS last year, and therefore will not be considered one of the favourites for the trophy come April.

Star Men: Maxi Urruti, Michael Barrios, Matt Hedges

 

New York Red Bulls

Having finished top the Eastern Conference back in 2016, the New York Red Bulls have qualified for their fourth CONCACAF Champions League. They reached the quarter finals last season, the furthest they have gone in the tournament to date. They have been a perennial playoff team in the MLS and in 2017, it was no different, and they will hope to bring some form with them into the competition.

Star Men: Bradley Wright-Phillips, Daniel Royer, Tyler Adams

 

Seattle Sounders

The Sounders make it in to this year’s tournament having won the MLS Cup in 2016. They also reached the final of last season’s MLS Cup, but were beaten by Toronto FC. The Sounders last played in the competition back in 2015-16, but the furthest they have gone in the tournament was in 2012-13, when they reached the last four.

Star Men: Clint Dempsey, Nicolas Lodeiro, Osvaldo Alonso

 

COSTA RICA

Instead of the usual single berth, there are two Costa Rican sides in the 2018 CONCACAF Champions League. This is because of the exclusion of Guatemalan teams to enter the tournament, so the highest ranked team from the CONCACAF League was promoted to the CCL, and that side was Herediano. Their other berth goes to Saprissa, who were the last non-Mexican team to win the competition, all the way back in 2005. Like in Mexico, the season is split into two, with the Invierno and Verano leagues.

 

Herediano

As the winners of the 2017 Verano, Herediano originally qualified for the 2018 CONCACAF League. However, due to the suspension of Guatemalan teams, they were moved up into the CCL for this year’s tournament. They were also runners-up to Saprissa in the 2016 Invierno, and the two were by far the best sides in the country. This will be their eighth attempt at glory under the guise of the CCL, having made the semi-finals in 2014-15.

Star Men: Leonel Moreira, Randall Azofeifa, Elias Aguilar

 

Saprissa

The second Costa Rican team is Saprissa, the last non-Mexican winners of the trophy. Saprissa have won the tournament three times in its history, but have only reached the semi-finals, at best, since it changed to become the CCL in 2008-09. This will be their seventh participation since then, and they qualify for the tournament as the winners of the 2016 Invierno in Costa Rica.

Star Men: Marvin Angulo, Danny Carvajal, Ariel Rodríguez

 

HONDURAS

Like Costa Rica, Honduras also have two sides in the 2018 version of the CCL. However, one of those came through one of their teams winning the 2017 CONCACAF League. Only one Honduran team has ever won the competition, Olimpia. The other side to qualify for the tournament, this year, was Motagua, who won both the 2016 Apertura and 2017 Clausura (same system as Mexico).

 

Motagua

The team that won both the Apertura and Clausura in the 2016-17 season in Honduras was Motagua, despite earning fourteen points less than the best team in the country over the whole season. They won when it mattered, though, and qualified for the CCL. This is Motagua’s fourth appearance in the tournament, but they have never made it out of the group stages in its most recent format.

Star Men: Carlos Discua, Erick Andino, Javier Estupiñán

 

Olimpia

The team that accumulated the most points in the Honduran league in 2016-17 was Olimpia, but they failed to go on to win either league in the playoff stages. They are the only ever-present side in the CONCACAF Champions League’s current guise, and have won the whole competition twice, back in its old format, in 1972 and 1988.

Star Men: Carlo Costly, Michaell Chirinos, Donis Escober

 

CANADA

As always, Canada have one side in the CONCACAF Champions League in 2018. For this season only, due to the restructuring of the competition, the winners of both the 2016 and 2017 Canadian Championships would have faced off to decide who would qualify for this year’s CCL. However, as Toronto FC won both, they automatically qualify for the competition.

 

Toronto FC

Image credit: TSN

Having won both Canadian Championships in 2016 and 2017, Toronto FC automatically qualified for this year’s tournament without the need for a playoff. They also completed a historic treble in the 2017 season. Toronto won the Canadian Championship, along with the MLS Cup and Supporters’ Shield, becoming the first side to complete the domestic treble. Their best performance internationally was in the 2011-12 season, when they reached the final four. This will be their fifth appearance in the tournament.

Star Men: Sebastian Giovinco, Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley

 

DOMINICAN REPUBLIC

The side to qualify from the Dominican Republic is the only qualifying side from the Caribbean region of the CONCACAF area. The winners came through the Caribbean Club Championship, and it is the first time the nation has been represented in the CCL.

 

Cibao

Having won the Caribbean Club Championship in 2017, Cibao are the Caribbean representative in this year’s CONCACAF Champions League. They qualified for the 2017 CCC having finished runners-up in the 2016 Liga Dominicana de Fútbol. This will be their first appearance in the tournament.

Star Men: Domingo Peralta, Cherenfant Woodensky, Patrick Serge Soko

 

EL SALVADOR

Much like Mexico and Honduras, the Salvadoran league is split into two parts, the Apertura and Clausura. El Salvador gets one berth for the 2018 CCL, and the team that won both parts of their 2016-17 league have qualified. The trophy has gone back to the nation of El Salvador three times in history, with Alianza (1967), Aguila (1976) and FAS (1979) all winning the Champions Cup, as it was called back then.

 

Santa Tecla

They won both the 2016 Apertura and 2017 Clausura, and because of that, Santa Tecla are the Salvadoran entry into this year’s tournament. They were a dominant force in the league last season, and will be looking to show they can perform on the big stage, in just their second appearance in the CONCACAF Champions League.

Star Men: Ricardinho, Joel Almeida, Gerson Mayen

 

PANAMA

The final nation to have a team qualify for the 2018 version of the competition is Panama. The team with the better aggregate record of the two league winners (Apertura and Clausura) qualifies as the Panama entry. No Panamanian side has ever gone on to win the trophy.

 

Tauro

The most southern-based team in the tournament are Tauro, from Panama. They qualified for this year’s CCL by winning the 2017 Clausura, and by having a better aggregate record than the winners of the 2016 Apertura in their nation. This will be their sixth appearance in the tournament, but they had never made it past the group stage in the competition’s most recent format, before the change for this year.

Star Men: Edwin Aguilar, José Batista, Marcos Sánchez

With the change to the tournament structure, it is a straight knockout format. The Round of 16 starts this week with the first legs, followed by the return fixtures next week.

 

Written by Matt Coles. (@MattJColes)

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