CONCACAF provides various routes for club teams in its member nations to qualify for CONCACAF Champions League play. We’ll be taking a look at routes of qualification in Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean a bit later on, but let’s start by getting a refresher on how teams in the United States and Canada qualify for CCL.
Under the tournament's current set of rules, CONCACAF awards four berths to teams in the United States. Both MLS Cup finalists qualify for the tournament, as does the winner of the MLS Supporters' Shield - awarded to the team with the highest regular-season point total. In addition, the winner of the U.S. Open Cup also qualifies for CCL play, which gives any U.S. Soccer Federation affiliated club (even lower level professional teams and amateur sides) a chance at continental glory.
Should there be any overlap between those four berths, the remaining spot is filled with the MLS team with the next highest point total - the Supporters' Shield runner-up, if you will. For example, in the 2009-2010 edition of Champions League play, the Columbus Crew qualified as MLS Cup winners - but they also won the Supporters Shield. The Houston Dynamo filled the vacant spot as the team with the next highest regular season point total.
It can get even more complicated from time to time - such is the case in the current edition of the tournament. The LA Galaxy qualified for CCL play by winning the 2011 MLS Cup. They also happened to be the Supporters' Shield winners that very same season, which opened up a CCL berth for the Supporters Shield runners-up, the Seattle Sounders. The Sounders, however, had already qualified for Champions League by way of their U.S. Open Cup title, meaning the remaining berth actually went to the MLS club with the third highest regular season point total - Real Salt Lake.
Confused yet? Such overlap is actually fairly frequent. Since the tournament's 2008 re-design, the Supporters' Shield runner-up has appeared on three different occasions: Chivas USA in 2008-2009, Houston in '09-10 and RSL in this year’s edition of CCL play.
Canada is given one berth in the CONCACAF Champions league, and it goes to the winner of the Amway Canadian Championship. Toronto FC and the Montreal Impact have both represented their country in Champions League play; the Vancouver Whitecaps FC will get their shot to qualify for the 2013-14 edition of CCL when this year’s Canadian Championship kicks off on April 24th.
Canadian teams cannot qualify for Champions League play via their participation in Major League Soccer. If a Canadian team qualifies for MLS Cup or wins the Supporters' Shield, for example, that spot in CCL play would be given to the U.S.-based MLS side with the highest regular season point total.