The Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) announced today changes to the format of the CONCACAF Champions League.

Beginning with the 2012/2013 edition, the fifth in the competition’s history, the Preliminary Round will be eliminated and all 24 participating teams will enter the competition in the Group Stage.  In the previous four tournaments, 16 teams met in eight Preliminary Round pairings with the series winners joining eight-seeded teams in the Group Stage.

“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.”

Under the new structure, the Group Stage will consist of eight groups of three teams.

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, Caribbean Football Union 1, 2 & 3

Teams from the same country cannot be drawn together unless one is a wildcard replacing a team from a country without a suitable venue.  Additionally, there will be a team from Mexico or the USA in each of the eight groups.

The new Group Stage, comprised of 48 matches, will be played over six weeks instead of eight, starting on July 31 and ending by October 25.

Only the eight group winners will advance to the Championship Round, which will remain unchanged with quarterfinal, semifinal and final series being played in a two-leg, home-and-home system.  Under the current format, group winners and runners-up progressed to the knock-out phase.

The 2011/2012 Champions League resumes on March 6 with the start of quarterfinal play.

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