First, the MLS went to an unbalanced schedule.
Then, the U.S. Open Cup expanded its field to include all 16 U.S. MLS teams and scrapped the blind bidding process for the early rounds.
And now? Now it’s CONCACAF’s turn to change things up, starting with the 2012-13 Champions League (the tournament that starts in the summer, not the one the Sounders resume in a March).
Here’s the news release of the changes from Thursday. I’ll do my best to provide a summary below and after the jump:
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— Goodbye preliminary round! The Sounders wouldn’t have had to face a play-in round opponent en route to the group stage this summer, as they had the previous two years, but now none of the 24 teams will.
— Why? The group stage of the CCL is changing to consist of eight three-team groups and the eight group winners advance to the quarterfinals. The old format used to start with a preliminary round of 16 teams. Eight of those teams would qualify into the group stage, consisting of four four-team groups, and the top two teams from each group would advance to the quarterfinals.
— Hard to follow. I know. But eight three-team groups means the group stage has been reduced to four games per team instead of six, which frees up up Seattle’s 2012 schedule a bit and lessens the travel. Each game will be more important, however.
— The knockout rounds are unchanged and will have the following schedule: quarterfinals (March 5-7, March 12-14), semifinals (April 2-4, April 9-11) and the final (April 24, May 1).
— Unless I’m mistaken, each of the eight groups will have exactly one Mexican or MLS team among the three. That means the earliest a Mexican or MLS team can play against another Mexican or MLS team is in the quarterfinals. That might result in easier groups for MLS teams, but less exciting matchups.
— In the group stage, no team will face another club from the same country. EXCEPT, according to the news release, if there’s a reallocated or wild-card berth that changes up the amount of teams a country sends to the CCL.
— Games will be played on Tuesdays, Wednesday and Thursday in the weeks of July 31, August 21, August 28, September 18, September 25 and October 23. As a reminder, since teams are playing just four group-stage games instead of six, they’ll get two of these weeks off.
— The eight No. 1 seeds in the groups are distributed as follows: Mexico (2), MLS (2), Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras and Panama.
— The eight No. 2 seeds go to Mexico (2), MLS (2), Canada, El Salvador, Costa Rica and Honduras.
— The eight No. 3 seeds go to the three Caribbean teams, Belize, Nicaragua. El Salvador, Guatemala and Panama.