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CONCACAF Champions League unveils new format without group stage

CONCACAF has announced a revised format for the CONCACAF Champions League that eliminates the group stage starting in the 2017-18 edition of the tournament.

The tournament will now involve 31 clubs and be comprised of two stages. The first stage will see 16 teams from the Caribbean and Central America compete in a tournament that runs from August to October.

The winner will then move on to the second stage, where it will be joined by clubs from MLS (five teams, assuming the winner of the Canada Cup is an MLS team), Liga MX (four teams), the winner of the Caribbean Club Championship, as well as the overall champions from El Salvador, Costa Rica, Panama, Honduras, and Guatemala. This stage will be contested from February to May.

"The expansion of the CONCACAF club competitions platform to 31 clubs is an important step forward in the Confederation's efforts to include more Member Association representation and increase participation at the highest levels of our competitions," said CONCACAF president Victor Montagliani.

"The continued growth of club competition in CONCACAF is representative of the strengthening of the sport throughout the region, and along with the new format for the Champions League, provides the base for a formidable club championship structure that will entertain and engage fans region-wide for years to come."

The effect of the format changes, at least as it relates to MLS and Liga MX clubs, is that the group stage that used to take place in the latter half of the calendar year, has been eliminated, thus helping to ease fixture congestion.

But MLS has long complained that the timing of the knockout stage of the tournament -- which has historically run during preseason and the early months of the regular season -- took place when its teams were far from peak form. The revised format will do little to change that.

A CONCACAF spokesman explained that the stakeholders from all of the leagues were consulted, and that MLS was asked whether it preferred to have the knockout stage run from August to October. MLS selected the option for it to run from February to May.

"One of the challenges that we were made aware of by MLS was that the August to October [timeframe] was likely to conflict with some important days on their league calendar, like Decision Day and the playoffs," said the spokesman. "So that was a challenge for them, among others, and alleviating fixture congestion was one of their goals."

As for why games have to start in February as opposed to March or April, the spokesman explained that when international fixture windows are taken into account, a March start date wouldn't allow for enough time to squeeze in eight matchdays.

"A March start would take up almost every midweek date, which just wasn't feasible," the spokesman said.

Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle.

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