CCL: What exactly is CONCACAF?

The Sounders are playing in this tournament named, "CONCACAF Champions League" but what exactly is CONCACAF?

With the semifinals of the CONCACAF Champions League rapidly approaching, some of you may need a refresher on just what exactly CONCACAF is, what it does and who its member nations are. Let’s take a quick look:

What is CONCACAF? - CONCACAF, the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football, is the governing body of men’s and women’s soccer in the region. Founded in 1961, it is one of the six continental confederations affiliated with FIFA – the global governing body of the sport. Just as UEFA governs football clubs in Europe and CONMEBOL oversees them in South America, CONCACAF serves that function in our neck of the woods.

What does CONCACAF do? - The primary purpose of the CONCACAF is to organize competitions and tournaments for its member nations. Those national teams compete in several competitions, including the Gold Cup (the biennial championship of CONCACAF ), Olympic qualifying tournaments and other championship tournaments at different age levels – 17 and under and 20 and under. Most importantly, CONCACAF organizes qualifying tournaments for the FIFA World Cup.

The confederation also organizes CONCACAF Champions League, of course, the club championship of its member nations and the competition that the Sounders are currently semifinalists in.

Who belongs to CONCACAF? - All told, 40 teams are members of CONCACAF: from North American giants like the U.S. and Mexico, to Central American competitors like Honduras and El Salvador – all the way down to tiny Caribbean islands like Saint Maarten and Curaçao. Three South American countries are also members: French Guiana, Suriname and Guyana.

Five of the smaller members belong to CONCACAF but aren’t full FIFA members. This means that players who play for these particular national sides can also elect to play for the national team of the country that governs them – for example a soccer player born in Martinique can elect to play for his home country in CONCACAF play, but still retain the option to play for France as well.

How successful has CONCACAF been in international play? - No CONCACAF nation has ever won the World Cup, but the federation has sent representative nations to every World Cup since the competition’s inception in 1930. Mexico leads the way in qualification, having appeared in the tournament on 14 occasions. The United States is the region’s second-most prolific team in World Cup Qualifying, having qualified for the competition nine times. The US also holds the distinction of being the CONCACAF member nation that came closest to winning the competition, finishing third in 1930.

The CONCACAF champion (determined by the Gold Cup) also participates in the FIFA Confederations cup, a tournament played every four years and made up of the six FIFA continental champions (along with the previous World Cup winner and host nation.) Mexico won this competition in 1999 and will compete in the 2013 edition of the tournament; the United states came memorably close to taking the title in South Africa just three years ago, narrowly losing to Brazil in the final.

Club teams in the federation also compete outside of CONCACAF via the Club World Cup, the payout of winning the CONCACAF Champions League. No MLS team has ever qualified for this competition – Mexican powerhouses Monterrey and Necaxa have both finished third in it.

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