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ESPN FC  By ESPN staff

Liga MX officially opts out of 2017 Copa Libertadores

The Mexico Football Federation (FMF) announced on Friday that Liga MX clubs will not participate in Copa Libertadores 2017.

Liga MX sides have participated in the South American tournament for the past 19 editions by invitation, but planned new nearly all-year formats expanding the Copa Libertadores from 27 to 42 weeks mean Mexico can no longer take part, officials told ESPN.

CONMEBOL and FMF tried to reach a late scheduling solution, but could not agree on shifts to either calendar. 

However, both left the option for future collaboration open should CONMEBOL adjust the Copa Libertadores format.

"On Nov. 2 we made the decision to ask CONMEBOL to relieve us of the obligation to participate in the 2017 edition, but we will work to return in 2018," Liga MX president Enrique Bonilla said during a news conference on Friday. "Our idea is to return in 2018 with the three spots that were allotted to us. The goal is always about growth."

Rodrigo Fernandez, the vice president of Liga MX club Leon, said the decision was regrettable and added that the league would meet on Dec. 5 to restructure with a new focus on the CONCACAF Champions League and a potential new collaboration with Major League Soccer.

"I hope in the future that we can return and participate [in the Copa Libertadores]. It is a window to the world and it helped Mexico's visibility," he said. 

"[MLS collaboration] is a possibility. Mexico has wanted to do this for some years now, to have some type of tournament with the U.S. teams, but for now we will just have the CONCACAF Champions League."

Bonilla agreed that Liga MX would look north toward a possible MLS project and added that 72 percent of the league's fan base say they are happy with the current format.

"We have a great relationship with MLS, Bundesliga, Premier League. There are a lot of projects [suggested] and we want our fans to be happy."

CONMEBOL announced planned expansion for the Copa Libertadores last month, with two more qualifying spots awarded to Brazil and one more apiece to Argentina, Colombia and Chile, bringing the competition to 44 teams.

The South American governing body also shifted the calendar for the secondary Copa Sudamericana.

Beginning in 2017, the two tournaments will be run more concurrently, with the Copa Libertadores beginning in February and running through to the end of November or to December.

The Copa Sudamericana will now run from March until the beginning of December.

The changes mean the South American format in 2017 will resemble Europe's Champions League and Europa League more closely.

Atletico Nacional of Colombia are the reigning champions after defeating Independiente del Valle of Ecuador  1-0 in the 2016 final.

Sources told ESPN that several Liga MX clubs were keen to find a way to remain in the new Copa Libertadores format, but FMF had instead decided to place emphasis on restructuring Liga MX.

"[Copa Libertadores] is the most important tournament in the Americas, but our league and our schedule within Liga MX is also important," Fernandez said. 

The subject has divided Liga MX, with Copa Libertadores supporters pointing to the economic benefit and exposure for Mexican clubs internationally and detractors calling for the FMF to strengthen the local league. 

CONMEBOL insisted the final decision to exit was taken by the FMF. CONMEBOL leaders said they could not adjust their calendar and that it was up to the participating national tournaments to make a change.

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