Minnesota United and MLS as a whole may not participate in the CONCACAF League but it doesn't mean it’s not important. With a minimum 3 and maximum of 5 teams from MLS qualifying for the 2020 CONCACAF Champions League it’s important to take a look at how roughly 1⁄3 of the field will gain entry to the Champions League. That is through the CONCACAF League.
The summer 2019 version of the tournament will be the third edition of the CONCACAF League which mainly features teams from Central America and the Caribbean along with one team from the Canadian Premier League. As a background this is CONCACAF’s secondary competition, similar to the UEFA Europa League or the Copa Sudamericana but with some higher stakes and a different format. There are currently 22 entries into the CL which are given to 11 different nations.
CONCACAF has three “Zones” used for tournament qualifications, North America (Canada, Mexico, and the US), Central America, and the Caribbean. One team qualifies from North America, this year it is the Canadian Premier League “CONCACAF League Series” winner Forge FC. The CPL CLS was between the 3 CPL “inaugural teams” (FC Edmonton, Forge FC from Hamilton, ON, and Valour FC from Winnipeg, MB) and included the four matches those teams played against each other in the Spring Season. For 2020 it will be the overall CPL League Champion, which similar to many Central and South American countries, will be determined by a single match played between the Spring and Fall season winners.
Central America features the most teams with 18 clubs qualifying from 7 nation s. Costa Rica, Honduras, Panama, El Salvador, and Guatemala all have three teams qualify. Nicaragua sees two clubs qualifying and Belize has just one. The countries with three teams all have their 2018 Apertura and 2019 Clausura champions qualify along with the team with the best aggregate record through both parts of the season that did not qualify. The only exception to this is Honduras where it is the top three overall as the same club won both the Apertura and Clausura.
Last up is the Caribbean Zone which has three teams qualify. This zone is pretty straight forward as the Caribbean Club Championship is used to qualify the teams. With four teams in that competition this year the CCC Champion goes directly to the CONCACAF Champions League, Second Place to the CL Round of 16, Third place to the CL Preliminary Round, and 4th place (Real Hope from Haiti) took on 2019 Caribbean Club Shield winners (Robinhood from Suriname) in a playoff for the final spot from the Caribbean.
Similar to the CCL but unlike any other continental club competitions the CONCACAF League does not feature a group stage but only a knockout stage. The expanded CL for 2019 opens with a Preliminary Round with the first fixture being played between July 30th and August 1st. The return fixture of the two-game aggregate is played the following week between August 6th and 8th. The six winners of the preliminary round then advance to the Round of 16 which will have the first match of the two-game aggregate series played between August 20th and 22nd with the return match being played between August 27th and 29th.
As with the previous two round the Quarter-Finals, Semi-Finals, and Finals are a two-game aggregate series with a home and away format, just like the CONCACAF Champions League. The Quarter-Finals will take place between September 24th and 26th and the return series between October 1st and 3rd. The Semi-Finals are held later in October with the first set being played between October 22nd and 24th and the second between October 29th and 31st. The CL Championship Finals will have the first leg played on November 6th and the second leg, and final tournament match played on November 26th.
In total six clubs will move from the 2019 CL to the 2020 CCL. Those clubs will be in order the CL Champion, CL Runner-Up, both losing CL Semi-Finalists, and the best two performing losing CL Quarter-Finalists. Those final two clubs will be determined by a standings table including only their matches in the Round of 16 and Quarter-Finals. Once that has all been played all 16 clubs in the 2020 CONCACAF Champions League will have been determined.
In the United States you can catch all the CONCACAF League and CONCACAF Champions League matches on Univision Deportes (Spanish Coverage) and Yahoo! Sports, which also carries the National Women’s Soccer League (where many USWNT players play) as well.