CONCACAF announced a change in their Champions League format on Monday, eliminating the group stage for the 2017-2018 edition of the tournament.
In the new format, Central American and Caribbean teams will face off first, the winners then facing the MLS clubs who will enter the tournament in the second stage. Five MLS teams, four Liga MX clubs, the winner of the Caribbean Club Championship and the champions from the leagues in El Salvador, Costa Rica, Panama, Honduras, and Guatemala will make up the second stage of the tournament.
So, basically, there’s no more group stage. This benefits MLS clubs considering MLS teams don’t have to travel to the small nations within the middle of the season. However, this change does not address the issue of MLS clubs joining the knockout stage of Champions League play within their preseason schedules. Liga MX and most other domestic leagues are well within their season before entering Champions League play, giving them an advantage as they’ve had longer time to train and play in meaningful matches in preparation for CCL.
From the Atlanta United perspective, it’ll be interesting to see how Tata Martino and the entire front office address the CCL whenever their first opportunity arises. Darren Eales has continued the mantra of Atlanta United being a global club. Entering and performing well in the CONCACAF Champions League would certainly be a step in the right direction in achieving this goal. No MLS team has ever won the CCL in its current format and has only one it once in the last 17 years, giving Atlanta United the opportunity to potentially set a new standard for MLS within the continental competition. A Jason Kreis led Real Salt Lake is the closest an MLS club has been to winning the CONCACAF Champions League in its current format, losing 3-2 on aggregate to Monterrey.