Format set for Champions League

[DATEBOOK] The CONCACAF version, that is.

Modeled after the European competition but with a dash of Libertadores Cup thrown into the mix, the confederation club championship will feature 24 teams vying for the regional title and a spot in the 2009 World Club Cup.

The competition, to commence in August and conclude next April, consists of a preliminary round, a group phase, and three knockout rounds (quarterfinals, semifinals, and finals). Except for the group phase, for which 16 teams will qualify, two-leg, total-goals series will separate the teams.

Mexico and the United States have each been allocated four of the 24 spots. New England and Chivas USA will compete in the preliminary round; defending league champion Houston and D.C. United (best regular-season record) will be seeded into the group phase.

The eight seeded slots have been assigned as follows; Mexico (2), USA (2), Costa Rica (1), Guatemala (1), Honduras (1), El Salvador (1). The preliminary round draw, to be conducted June 11, will determine the head-to-head matchups from among two additional Mexican teams and two from Panama; three Caribbean teams (the USL-1's Puerto Rico Islanders are one of the possibilities); one additional team from each of Costa Rica, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Belize, Nicaragua, and Canada; plus New England and Chivas USA.

That draw will also assign the preliminary-round winners to their group slots. Preliminary round dates are Aug. 26-28 and Sept. 2-4. Group play begins Sept. 16-18.

To determine the Canadian representative, USL teams Montreal and Vancouver and MLS entrant Toronto FC will play a home-and-away round robin to determine which team advances to group play. Those games are scheduled to start May 27 and conclude July 22.

The Champions League replaces the Champions Cup as the regional club championship. Mexican club Pachuca repeated as champion last month and will represent CONCACAF at the 2008 World Club Cup in December.

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