MLS 101: Cup competitions
Vancouver Whitecaps FC have now moved their preseason camp to Arizona, where they will be playing two MLS clubs in Real Salt Lake and Columbus Crew. Those two teams will be taking a different approach than Vancouver, as they are preparing for their CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal showdown next month.
It will played be over two legs, with the first leg on Tuesday, February 22, while the return leg is set for Tuesday, March 1. Real Salt Lake and Columbus Crew will be competing to reach the semifinals.
We will come back to this scenario and see how these teams reached this stage, but for now, I would like to look at all the cup competitions and how they work.
Let us first look at MLS. The team with the most total points at the end of the regular season is awarded the Supporters' Shield. The league's teams are divided into two conferences - the Eastern and Western Conference. The regular season is followed by the 10-club MLS Cup Playoffs, which ended with the MLS Cup.
There is also the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup, which is an American soccer competition open to all United States Soccer Federation-affiliated teams, from the amateur adult club teams to the professional clubs of Major League Soccer.
The MLS also has four berths in the SuperLiga - a competition jointly organized by Major League Soccer and the Mexican Football Federation. The top four overall clubs from the 2009 season, excluding those participating in the 2010-11 CONCACAF Champions League, competed in the 2010 SuperLiga. Thos clubs were Houston Dynamo, Chicago Fire, Chivas USA, and New England Revolution.
The CONCACAF Champions League is the annual international club football championship for teams from the CONCACAF region (North America, Central America, and the Caribbean). The competition is open to the leading teams in the region and replaced the CONCACAF Champions' Cup, which ran from 1962 to 2008. The winner earns a berth in the following year's FIFA Club World Cup, which pits each continental confederation’s champions against each other on an annual basis.
MLS has three automatic berths in the CONCACAF Champions League for its American clubs, with an additional spot available via the US Open Cup. Canadian clubs in MLS can qualify for the single Canadian berth via the Canadian Championship (known currently as the Nutrilite Canadian Championship). For the 2010-11 CONCACAF Champions League, the qualifying clubs were 2009 MLS Cup champions Real Salt Lake, Supporters' Shield winners Columbus Crew, MLS Cup runners-up Los Angeles Galaxy, 2009 U.S. Open Cup winners Seattle Sounders FC, and 2010 Canadian Championship winners Toronto FC.
The above brings us back to the start of my story, where Real Salt Lake or Columbus Crew will become the first MLS team to reach the semifinal stage of the CONCACAF Champions League. Whoever that team is will play their two-legged semifinal two matches on March 15 to 17 and April 5 to 7. If they win their semifinal, the final is also played over two legs on April 19 to 21 to April 26 to 28. Following that, we will begin a new chapter of the CONCACAF Champions League, with our own Whitecaps FC vying for Canadian and CONCACAF glory.
Other than the MLS silverware that is on offer, we have two other cups to compete for, so let's get our trophy cupboard dusted and ready.