It’s almost time.
Starting this week, Vancouver Whitecaps FC will kick off their 2015-16 CONCACAF Champions League campaign at home against longtime rival Seattle Sounders FC, who they also happen to meet this weekend at CenturyLink Field.
It’s sure to be a momentous occasion – and not only because of the history between the two clubs. This will be Vancouver’s first-ever Champions League match.
Hopefully, the first of many.
With that in mind, here are 10 things you need to know about the competition, just days ahead of Vancouver’s much-anticipated opener.
The CONCACAF Champions League is composed of 24 of the top teams from North America, Central America, and the Caribbean, including five from Major League Soccer. In order to qualify for the tournament, a club needs to either win a title or prove it’s the best team in its country over the course of a season – the qualification process varies from country to country.
Whitecaps FC qualified for this year’s tournament by finishing as the top Canadian team in the MLS standings last season. Moving forward, the winner of the Amway Canadian Championship will earn Canada’s lone berth in the following year’s CCL.
The ‘Caps are in a group with Seattle and defending Honduran champion C.D. Olimpia. Each team will play each other twice, with the top team advancing to the next round starting in early 2016.
Following the group stage, the eight remaining teams will be seeded based on their group results, which will determine their opponent in the “championship stage.” The championship stage consists of a two-leg home-and-away series.
Other teams of note in this year’s tournament include Deportivo Saprissa, the former team of Whitecaps FC defender Kendall Waston, and Mexican side Queretaro, which features former Whitecaps FC striker Camilo. In addition to Vancouver and Seattle, the other MLS teams are LA Galaxy, D.C. United, and Real Salt Lake. Click here to see the complete breakdown of teams.
The winner of the CONCACAF Champions League advances to the annual FIFA Club World Cup, where they compete against the top teams from Asia, Africa, South America, Oceana, and Europe. Spanish powerhouse Real Madrid are the reigning Club World Cup champions. The 2015-16 CONCACAF Champions League winner will compete in the 2016 FIFA Club World Cup, which will be hosted in Japan.
No MLS team has ever won the Champions League under the current format, but two have made it to the final: Real Salt Lake in 2010-11 and Montreal Impact in the most recent edition of the tournament.
This will be the eighth edition of the CONCACAF Champions League in its current format. A Mexican team has won the title every single year thus far. Club America are the defending champions.
Four Whitecaps FC players have CONCACAF Champions League experience: centre back Kendall Waston (three appearances with Saprissa), centre back Pa-Modou Kah (one appearance with Portland), right back Steven Beitashour (one appearance with San Jose), and midfielder Mauro Rosales (nine appearances with Seattle).
This tournament never has any shortage of drama – on and off the pitch. There have been instances of fans camping outside the opposing team’s hotel to keep them up all night, laser pointers in the crowd, coins being thrown onto the pitch, and so on. Expect the unexpected – and you’ll probably still be surprised.