CONCACAF’s best to battle in group stage
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It has been six years since CONCACAF changed the format of its region’s continental competition, switching from the Champions’ Cup to the more traditional Champions League style in 2008. While the Champions’ Cup followed several different formats from its inception in 1962 until the change in 2008, only a few teams – eight, for example, from 2004-2008 – would compete each year, vastly under-representing the region’s 41 Member Associations.

Now in its current set-up, 24 teams from North America, Central America and the Caribbean take part in the Champions League allowing for a more diverse and wide-range of clubs to compete for a spot in the FIFA Club World Cup. This season’s edition offers up more of the same, including five teams making their inaugural appearance in the Champions League with a total of 13 countries represented. FIFA.com previews the group stage of the 2014/15 CONCACAF Champions League, which kicks off on Tuesday.

The CONCACAF Champions League group stage is a gruelling affair with a very slim margin of error as the 24 teams quickly dwindle down to the final eight for the competition’s quarter-finals. Eight groups of three teams lock horns, playing each other twice for a total of four games per team, with the club atop the table advancing to the quarter-finals. The group stage is played out from the beginning of August through the end of October and the last eight return to action in February 2015.

Monterrey missing
Mexican clubs have dominated the regional competition both in the Champions League, having won the current format on all six occasions, and in the Champions Cup where another 24 titles belong to Mexican teams. Monterrey impressively won three consecutive Champions League crowns from 2010-2013, though Los Rayados have missed out on the past two seasons due to a slump of poor form in the Liga MX. Monterrey’s absence has opened the door for other Mexican clubs to enter the fray, which is what Cruz Azul capitalised on last year, edging fellow Mexican side Toluca on away goals to claim the 2013/14 Champions League and a berth in the FIFA Club World Cup Morocco 2014 this December.

La Máquina have a difficult path to defend their title, however. Cruz Azul are in arguably the toughest group (Group 6) of the competition and have to face Costa Rican powerhouse Alajuelense and a pesky side from Panama, 2014 Clausura champions Chorillo. Luis Fernando Tena’s side take on Los Rojinegros on the first matchday of the Champions League, and the two will face each other again in Alajuela during the final round of Group Stage play on 21 October.

Wide open group play
Group 1 features a tough Pachuca side, who won the 2009/10 title in their only prior Champions League appearance, going up against Guatemalan regulars CSD Municipal and Honduras’ Real Espana. The other dominant Costa Rican club, Saprissa, take on Real Esteli from Nicaragua and Major League Soccer outfit Sporting Kansas City, who bowed out at the quarter-final stage last year to eventual champions Cruz Azul, in Group 2. Two more MLS teams, Montreal Impact and New York Red Bulls, and El Salvadorian side CD FAS make up Group 3, while another American club, D.C. United, take on Panamanian club Tauro alongside Jamaican side and Champions League newcomers Waterhouse in Group 4.

Olimpia, one of only two teams to have featured in all six previous Champions League seasons, will have to overcome MLS side Portland Timbers and Guyana club Alpha United in Group 5 for the Honduras club to match their best showing in the competition when they reached the quarter-finals in 2010/11. Group 7 features the other team to have appeared in each Champions League season since 2008, Isidro Metapan. The El Salvadorian side are joined by Mexican club Leon and Belize’s Belmopan Bandits, both of whom are making their inaugural Champions League appearances. Lastly, Group 8 features Mexico’s Club America taking on Comunicaciones from Guatemala and debutants Bayamon of Puerto Rico.

Have your say
As has been demonstrated in the past, nothing is certain in the CONCACAF Champions League group stage. Will Mexico’s clubs continue to reign supreme over CONCACAF and win a seventh consecutive regional title? Will one of the five newcomers to the competition spring a surprise on one of the favourites? Tell us how you think the group stage will play out over the next two-and-a-half months and who you believe will be left standing in the quarter-finals next February!