Placed on long-term pause by the pandemic in March, the 2020 Concacaf Champions League finally will conclude next month, with the eight quarterfinalists gathering in an unannounced U.S. location for seven knockout games Dec. 15-22.
The venue “will be confirmed in the coming weeks,” Concacaf said. Matches will be played without fans.
Atlanta United, New York City FC, Los Angeles FC and Montreal Impact will be the MLS clubs involved, and all will play later in the calendar year than any league team ever has. This season’s MLS Cup final is scheduled for Dec. 12. The previous benchmark was Dec. 10, in 2016. The late dates could impact the start of 2021 training camps.
“Concacaf has developed extensive new SCCL regulations to ensure the delivery of a safe and highly controlled environment for all the players, coaches, team staff and officials who will participate,” the governing body announced. “These include a high-frequency COVID-19 testing regime before and during the competition and robust health and safety protocols which will be strictly applied.”
Three of the four quarterfinal series, originally scheduled to be home-and-home affairs, already are halfway done. Those will conclude with a second leg at the neutral site, with away goals and then penalty kicks used to break a tie. The fourth series, between LAFC and Cruz Azul, will be decided by a single match with no extra time (it’ll go straight to penalties if necessary).
The two semifinals will be single games that’ll go directly to penalties if necessary after 90 minutes. The final, however, will include 30 minutes of extra time if the score is level after 90.
The winner should qualify for the next FIFA Club World Cup, assuming FIFA stages it at some point. It was supposed to happen in mid-December, but so far UEFA is the only confederation that’s managed to crown a champion this year.
Here’s the schedule Concacaf announced Monday:
Quarterfinals - Dec. 15-16
CD Olimpia (Honduras) vs. Montreal Impact (Olimpia leads, 2-1, on aggregate)
Atlanta United vs. Club América (América leads, 3-0, on aggregate)
Tigres UANL vs. NYCFC (Tigres leads, 1-0, on aggregate)
LAFC vs. Cruz Azul
Semifinals - Dec. 19
América/Atlanta vs. LAFC/Cruz Azul
Tigres/NYCFC vs. Olimpia/Montreal
Final - Dec. 22
Meanwhile, the field for the 2021 CCL continues to take shape. The four Mexican clubs already are determined: Club América, Cruz Azul, León and 2019 champion Monterrey. U.S. Soccer and MLS have had to improvise because of the shortened season and cancellation of this year’s U.S. Open Cup.
From the USA, the MLS Cup champion (as long as it’s not a Canadian club) and Supporters’ Shield winner (as long as it’s not Toronto FC) will continue to qualify as usual. The berth that would’ve gone to the Open Cup champion essentially will be taken by the Portland Timbers, who won the MLS is Back Tournament in August. But there’s still no word from Concacaf or MLS on the fate of the fourth and final spot, although nothing appears to be stopping the league from sticking with tradition and awarding it to the first-place finisher in the other conference.
While either TFC or the Philadelphia Union is likely to win the Shield, the West features a three-way race between the Timbers, Sporting Kansas City and reigning MLS champ Seattle Sounders. MLS hasn’t announced its plan if one club secures a berth through two mechanisms, or if a Canadian team captures MLS Cup and/or the Shield.
Canada’s single berth to the 2021 CCL will go to the winner of the Canadian Championship final between Toronto and 2020 Canadian Premier League winner Hamilton Forge. That match has yet to be scheduled. The remaining seven spots in next year’s 16-team field will be filled by Caribbean entrant Atlético Pantoja (Dominican Republic) and six qualifiers from this fall’s Concacaf League tournament.