[CONCACAF CHAMPIONS LEAGUE]Last week, two of the four MLS teams competing in the inaugural Concacaf Champions League this summer learned their preliminary-round opponents, but none of the American quartet knew who their group opponents would be.
A regional confederation that often conducts its competitions and draws in Byzantine fashion on Monday completed its "draw" by releasing the makeup of the four groups that commence play in September following a preliminary round that will include 16 of the 24 competing teams.
MLS Cup winner Houston and regular-season champion D.C. United are exempt from the preliminary round, in which New England plays Joe Public of Trinidad and Tobago and Chivas USA faces Tauro FC of Panama. The two-leg preliminary round matches will be played during the last week of August and the first week of September.
The winners advance to the group phase that commences Sept. 16 and concludes the day before Halloween.
Teams from the Mexican league are incorporated in the same fashion. Atlante and Santos have been seeded directly into the group phase; Cruz Azul (Hankook Verdes of Belize) and UNAM (Harbour View of Jamaica) will play in the preliminary phase.
Toronto FC and USL teams Montreal and Vancouver are playing a mini-league tournament to determine which Canadian team qualifies for the preliminary round to face the Nicaraguan representative.
The top two teams in each group qualify for the quarterfinals, which don't begin until late February. All knockout series are conducted over two legs, with the finals scheduled for late April.
Competitions such as the European Champions League also feature a long break between group play and the knockout phase, but in the case of MLS and the Mexican league, one regular season will conclude and an ensuing preseason will begin during the fallow period. It's more similar to a team qualifying for European play in the spring, chopping and changing its squad over the summer, and rolling out a new squad for domestic and international play in August.
MLS officials have discussed numerous ways to address the issues of league teams playing tough international matches during preseason training, including an earlier start to training camp and expanded rosters. The competitive and administrative rules of the CONCACAF Champions League -- disciplinary measures, limits on roster sizes and movement of players, protest guidelines, etc. -- have yet to be finalized and formally adopted.
The competition replaces the CONCACAF Champions Cup, which concluded in April with Pachuca retaining its title by beating Saprissa, 3-2, on aggregate and qualifying for the FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2008 in December.
In some countries, play to determine representatives has yet to be completed. Honduras could have one or two representatives in the group phase, for example, depending on whether Olimpia or Marathon qualifies automatically as Honduras 1. The loser is Honduras 2 and must compete in the preliminary round against Metapan of El Salvador.
This are how the four groups will be comprised:
Group A: D.C. United (USA), Saprissa (Costa Rica), winner of Cruz Azul (Mexico)-Hankook Verdes (Belize), winner of Isidro Metapan (El Salvador)-Olimpia/Marathon (Honduras).
Group B:Houston Dynamo (USA), Luis Angel Firpo (El Salvador), winner of Jalapa/Municipal (Guatemala)-San Francisco FC (Panama), winner of Harbour View (Jamaica)-UNAM (Mexico).
Group C:Atlante FC (Mexico), Olimpia or Marathon (Honduras), winner of Joe Public (Trinidad & Tobago)-New England Revolution (USA), winner of Canada playoff-Nicaragua playoff.
Group D:Santos (Mexico), Municipal or Jalapa (Guatemala), winner of Alajuelense (Costa Rica)-Puerto Rico Islanders (Puerto Rico), winner of Chivas USA (USA)-Tauro FC (Panama).