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What is the CONCACAF Champions League?

VANCOUVER, BC – Vancouver Whitecaps FC have sealed up their spot as the top Canadian club in MLS this season, and with it, a berth in the 2015/16 CONCACAF Champions League.

As it’s the first time the ‘Caps have qualified for the prestigious tournament, here’s a quick primer on how the competition works and what it could mean for Whitecaps FC.


The CCL is a 24-team competition between the top clubs from North America, Central America, and the Caribbean. A knockout tournament for the majority of its existence, the competition was expanded in 2008 to the current two-stage format.

Nine teams from North America (four from the U.S., four from Mexico, and one from Canada), 12 teams from Central America, and three teams from the Caribbean will be split into eight groups of three.

Each team will play the other two teams in its group twice (home and away) from August to October 2015, and the team with the best record in each group will move on to the Championship Stage, which runs from March through May 2016.

The Championship Stage consists of the eight remaining clubs battling through the quarterfinals, semifinals, and the championship final. Each phase of the knockout rounds consist of a two-leg home-and-away series with the winner determined by aggregate goal differential.

With six wins to their credit, Liga MX side Cruz Azul are the most decorated club in the CCL history. Cruz Azul are also the reigning champions, having taken the title in the 2013-14 edition of the tournament.

The winner of the 2015/16 CONCACAF Champions League will qualify for the 2016 FIFA Club World Cup, where they will compete against the champions of Africa, Asia, Europe, Oceania, and South America, as well as the champion of the host country (either India or Japan), in a single-elimination tournament. 

Budesliga giants Bayern Munich are the reigning Club World Cup champions.

The 2016 FIFA Club World Cup will be held in December 2016.


Alongside Whitecaps FC in the lone Canadian slot, four American MLS teams can earn a place in the tournament by one of four methods:

  • Winning the MLS Cup
  • Winning the Supporters’ Shield
  • Finishing first in the opposing conference of the Supporters’ Shield winners
  • Winning the US Open Cup

Three of those slots are already locked up, as Seattle Sounders FC won the 2014 US Open Cup and DC United will finish first in the Eastern Conference. 

LA Galaxy are also guaranteed a spot in the tournament, as they and Seattle are the only two clubs in contention for the Supporters’ Shield with two matches remaining in the season.

If Sounders FC win the Supporters’ Shield (and/or MLS Cup), their slot from the US Open Cup would go to the highest ranked team that doesn’t qualify for the tournament. If LA doesn’t win either of those trophies, they would be the top-ranked remaining team and automatically get Seattle’s spot.

If LA does win the Supporters’ Shield and/or MLS Cup, then the remaining berth would go to the MLS club with the next best regular season record who has failed to otherwise qualify.

To summarize, five MLS teams (four from the U.S. and one from Canada) will qualify for the 2015/16 CONCACAF Champions League. And four of them have already been determined.

  • Seattle Sounders FC
  • LA Galaxy
  • Vancouver Whitecaps FC
  • DC United
  • TBD

Regardless of how the final combination of teams turns out, MLS will be sending a strong contingent of clubs to represent the league in the CONCACAF Champions League, and for the first time in their history, the ‘Caps will be among them.


North America (9 teams)

Canada – 1
Mexico – 4
United States – 4

Central America (12 teams)

Belize – 1
Costa Rica – 2
El Salvador – 2
Guatemala – 2
Honduras – 2
Nicaragua – 1
Panama – 2 

Caribbean (3 teams)*

* decided through a Caribbean qualifying tournament

Note: Traditionally, the winner of the Amway Canadian Championship has determined the Canadian representative of the CCL in the same season. However, starting in 2015 and for subsequent editions, the Amway Canadian Championship winner will represent Canada in the following season of the CONCACAF Champions League. For example, the 2015 Amway Canadian Championship winner will represent Canada at the 2016/17 CONCACAF Champions League.

Due to the transition in timeframe, all participating Canadian clubs agreed that the Canadian MLS club ranked highest in the overall league standings at the end of the 2014 MLS regular season would be appointed Canadian representative for the 2015/16 CONCACAF Champions League.