CONCACAF Champions League for Dummies: CCL 101

This year our beloved Verde will be jumping into the deep end of the club fútbol pool, and we’ve got everything you need to know if you have no idea what the difference is between a CONMEBOL and a CONCACAF. 


FIFA is more than a video game, it is the global governor of all things football.  It divides football into international and club competitions (international teams are all-star squads of a nation’s best footballers, whereas football clubs are made up of pros from wherever).  

FIFA also divides the planet up into regional “federations” and gives them weird, special-sounding names (e.g. CAF = Africa, Europe = UEFA, CONMEBOL = South America, etc). Our club is a part of the federation known as CONCACAF.  

CONCACAF stretches from Panama to Canada and includes all of the Caribbean island nations, too- 41 member nations in total (inexplicably, it also includes three nations on the north coast of South America, I have no idea why they were kicked out of CONMEBOL)

For the past 15 years, CONCACAF has held a tournament known as the Champions League (which replaced the Champions’ Cup that started in 1962). The teams that play in this “continental” competition must have qualified by reaching a certain level in their domestic leagues or domestic tournaments during the previous season.

This Year’s CCL Format

2023 CONCACAF 2023 tournament bracket
2023 CONCACAF Champions League tournament bracket

The 2023 iterations of the CCL will include 16 clubs (next year it will expand to 27 teams) : 

  • 9 North American
    • 4 Mexican, 
    • 4 United States
    • 1 Canadian
  • 1 Caribbean
    • 1 Haitian
  • 6 Central American
    • 1 Panamanian
    • 1 Costa Rican
    • 3 Hondoruan
    • 1 El Salvadorean

The Journey Begins

Austin FC’s opponent in the first round will be Violette AC, from Port-au-Prince, Haiti (starting March 7th, live on Fox Sports). VAC started 99 years before the Verde and Black even existed and even won the CONCACAF Champions cup back in 1984.  In total, this will be their 7th appearance in the continental competition.  

Due to political turmoil in Haiti, they’re being forced to play their home matches in the Dominican Republic, and a number of their players were denied visas to play in the US.

The Best Thing About the CCL

If your club wins the whole tournament, they earn the right to compete in the FIFA Club World Cup, and compete in meaningful matches (non-friendlies) against the 7 best clubs (1 from each federation, plus the host nation).  There are supposedly plans in the works to expand this tournament to include more teams in the future.

This is Austin FC’s only chance to compete against the likes of Real Madrid or Manchester United in a real match (Madrid just won the 2022 title).

Side note: Only 3 teams from the USA have ever won either version of this continental competition (DC United in 1998, LA Galaxy in 2000, and Seattle Sounders FC in 2023).


Because it’s really freaking hard to do!

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How to Win the CONCACAF Champions League? And why is it so hard?

Each round in the tournament is a home-and-away, aggregate goals competition.  This means that to progress to the next round you have to play one game in each club’s home stadium, and the team with the most goals accumulated over 180 minutes wins (a tie is broken by a penalty shootout, with extra time only used in the final).

Now here’s the catch: each of these matches is played concurrently with the MLS regular season schedule, AND they’re played in the middle of the week. 

So for Austin FC, that means that while the rest of the MLS teams are playing 3-4 games during March, the Groots will be playing 6 games. Including a stretch of 5 games in 15 days!

And one of those games will be played 1,849 miles away in the Dominican Republic!

The schedule is so grueling that Seattle only managed 5 wins from July until October after winning the CCL, resulting in an 11th place finish in the Western Conference in 2022.

So that’s the challenge that lies before Austin FC starts this week. If we’re successful, we’ll be feeling that “CCL Fever” until June 4th this year; if not, our boys might have more gas in the tank to pursue the other 5 trophies up for grabs this season.

This is part 1 of 3 of my CCL coverage, check out my next story to learn which Austin FC players have CONCACAF Champions League experience.

Photos Courtesy of

To purchase Austin FC CONCACAF Champions League tickets through SeatGeek, use code CAPCITYSOCCER for $20 off your first order.

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