The USA and Mexico, which have the two biggest leagues in the region, each get four berths; the Caribbean region three, and then two teams each from Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Panama. Belize, Nicaragua and Canada each get one berth. The top eight seeds -- two from the U.S. and Mexico and one from Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala -- qualify automatically for the first round while the other 16 play a home-and-away series in a qualifying round in August and early September. The first round contains four groups of four teams, and will be contested in September and October, with the quarterfinals beginning in February 2009. The semifinal will be in March and the final in April. The winner gets a berth in the FIFA Club World Cup.
The scheduling of the tournament will be a problem for MLS teams, whose regular season begins in late March and ends in early October. The first round will be contested right before the MLS playoffs -- a tense time for clubs on the cusp of qualifying -- while the quarterfinals begin more than a month ahead of the MLS season, at a time when teams are in the process of assimilating new players.