The draw for the 2019 CONCACAF Champions League takes place on December 3. It will feature two teams - New York Red Bulls and Portland Timbers - that are not qualified for the tournament: one of those two will be in CCL 2019, but which one won’t be determined until the 2018 MLS Cup Final is played on December 8. If Portland wins MLS Cup, Portland is in CCL 2019; if Portland loses to Atlanta United in the MLS Cup Final, RBNY takes the last remaining CCL berth.
Which teams would you like to see go head to head in the first round? Comment below #LoveForOurGame pic.twitter.com/DHHaSRSHwH— Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League (@TheChampions) December 1, 2018
So both Portland and RBNY will be in the draw, which is going to make for a slightly complicated set of initial pairings for the CCL 2019 round of 16. CONCACAF can’t do much about the complication, but it has at least clarified how the complication will manifest in the draw.
There are 16 teams in CCL 2019. For the purposes of the initial draw for the round of 16, those 16 teams are split into two groups of eight: half the teams in the draw go into Pot A and the other half go into Pot B. The round of 16 will match teams from Pot A against teams from Pot B. So far, so very simple.
CONCACAF wants to keep teams from the same national association separated for the round of 16 (it’s a free-for-all after that). Conveniently, for now at least, that requires little manipulation of the draw: using a ranking method based on past performance in the competition, seeding the teams 1-16 puts the four Mexican clubs in the field and three of the four US clubs in the top eight - so they’re all in Pot A along with Canadian representative Toronto FC. Sporting Kansas City is the American team in Pot B, and it will have to be kept away from any of Pot A’s American teams in the draw.
As such, RBNY already knows its hypothetical position: it is a Pot A team; it can’t be drawn against any Mexican teams or Toronto FC in the round of 16 (since they’re in Pot A too), or any fellow American clubs (since they’re the same association).
RBNY’s potential first-round rivals (if Portland loses the MLS Cup Final) are: Costa Rican heavyweights Saprissa and Herediano; Honduras’ Marathon; Guatemala’s Guastatoya; El Salvador’s Alianza; Panama’s Independiente; Dominican Republic’s Atletico Pantoja.
Atletico Pantoja, incidentally, has apparently modeled itself on LA Galaxy.
¡El flamante campeón del Campeonato de Clubes del Caribe 2018 debuta en #SCCL!— Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League (@TheChampions) November 29, 2018
Faltan solo 4 dias para que @atleticopantoja conozca su primer rival en el Sorteo Oficial de la Liga de Campeones de Concacafhttps://t.co/K2H7dTqRKf#SCCL2019 pic.twitter.com/KyRIpTrzhN
As previously mentioned, CONCACAF’s ranking system seeds the teams for the round of 16 based on a ranking of past performance in CCL. Since different teams often qualify for CCL from each association every year, the ranking is not based on the specific history of, say, RBNY in the competition. The ranking takes the qualification method of each team and quantifies that historic performance: so the team qualifying as the top side in El Salvador, for example, is seeded based on past performance of the teams that qualified as the top side in El Salvador for the past five tournaments.
The ranking doesn’t have a huge impact on the overall tournament after the draw, but it does create the initial division between Pot A and Pot B and it does assign each team a slot in the draw based on its method qualifying for the competition. For example, Herediano is the 2018 CONCACAF League champion is therefore in slot SCL1 - the slot reserved for that method of qualifying.
In the case of the American teams in the draw, they are dispersed between the four slots available to American teams. In this year’s draw, that means USA1 is allocated to the winner of the 2018 MLS Cup (undecided), USA 2 is for the winner of the 2017 US Open Cup (Sporting KC), USA3 is for the 2018 US Open Cup champion (Houston Dynamo), and USA4 is for the team claiming the highest aggregate points total in MLS over the past two seasons (Atlanta United).
RBNY can only qualify for the USA4 slot, and only if Atlanta United - which technically is already in the tournament because it has the highest aggregate points total in MLS over the past two seasons - cedes USA4 by winning MLS Cup and taking over USA1.
What does this mean? Well, not much for RBNY fans. The draw will deliver a pretty straightforward result for the Red Bulls: if they qualify for CCL 2019, they’re taking whichever opponent from Pot B is drawn against USA4.
For Portland fans, it’s a similar equation: they need only worry about whichever team is drawn against USA1 - the winner of 2018 MLS Cup.
But Atlanta United could be either USA1 or USA4 depending on what happens in the MLS Cup Final.
CONCACAF will figure out a way to represent this minor complexity in the draw on December 3.