[CONCACAF CHAMPIONS LEAGUE] Concacaf has changed the format for its Concacaf Champions League, announcing plans to scrap the preliminary round and place all 24 entrants in the group stage, beginning with the 2012-13 edition.
In the previous four tournaments, 16 teams met in eight preliminary-round pairings with the series winners joining eight-seeded teams in four groups of four in the group stage. The top two teams in each group moved on to the knockout stage.
Beginning next season, the 24 teams will be divided into eight groups of three and the group winners will move into the quarterfinals.
Teams will now play four games instead of six in the group stage, a move that will please MLS clubs who must fit Concacaf games into the second half of their league schedules.
"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."
The teams will be distributed into three categories for purposes of the draw as follows:
Category 1: Mexico 1 & 2, USA 1 & 2, Costa Rica 1, Guatemala 1, Honduras 1, Panama 1
Category 2: Mexico 3 & 4, USA 3 & 4, Canada 1, Costa Rica 2, El Salvador 1, Honduras 2
Category 3: Belize 1 (pending approval of suitable stadium), El Salvador 2, Guatemala 2, Nicaragua 1, Panama 2, CFU 1, 2 & 3.