CONCACAF has made a major format change to their Champions League, eliminating the preliminary qualifying round and putting all 24 teams into the tournament proper. Beginning with the 2012-2013 competition, the 24 teams will be placed into eight groups with three teams in each and only the group winners will advance to the knockout stages. The knockout rounds will all remain two-legged ties.
"This new format will streamline the first phase of the competition," said Ted Howard, CONCACAF's acting general secretary. "It will alleviate schedule congestion on both domestic and international calendars."
Travel has become a concern for some clubs and eliminating two matches from the group stage and the preliminary qualifying stage means that teams could cut out as many as two away matches from the competition under the new format. For a tournament that has struggled to get teams to play their top players at times, this could be what they need to get those players into the competition.
Teams from the same country will not be allowed to face each other in the group stage. The top two teams from the United States and Mexico and the top club from Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras and Panama will all be seeded in the top group to ensure that they are not placed in the same group. The remaining teams from the United States and Mexico, Canada's club as well a the top team from El Salvador and the second teams from Costa Rica and Honduras will be in the next seeded group.
The competition will begin as originally planned on July 31, 2012, continuing on in the weeks of August 21, August 28, September 18, September 25 and October 23. The knockout stages will take place in the spring of 2013.
In past years, the top eight teams would qualify directly to the group stage, while the remaining 16 teams would play in eight two-legged ties with the eight winners advancing to the group stage. The group stage was made up of four groups of four teams each and the top two teams in each group advanced to the quarterfinals.