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Know Your League: Competitions


So you saw the Crew training with elevation masks on social media. What the heck was that all about? Well, my friends, they had a Concacaf Champions Cup final to prepare for, and though they fell short in the end, it got me thinking about just how far the Loons could go in such competitions. If we play our cards right, we too could be playing for silverware in Pachuca, San José (Costa Rica, that is), or some other distant Concacaf city one of these days.

I know what some of you are thinking: why weren’t we in the Triple C this year? Well, let me tell you why we didn’t have a seat at that table, what tables we DO have seats at, and how we can get our names onto some pretty exclusive dinner party lists. It’s time for another Know Your League, and this time, we’re walking through all the competitions that MNUFC could possibly compete in each year.


We’ll start with the givens. Every season, no matter what we do the year before, we will be playing in Major League Soccer. Woohoo! That gives us a chance to win the Supporters’ Shield (my second favorite trophy) every year, as well as pursue a spot in the MLS Cup Playoffs. If we manage to make it into the top nine point-earners at the end of the regular season, we get a chance to win our way to an MLS Cup triumph for the ages, no matter how many points behind the league leaders we finished.

Much like our beloved regular season, the U.S. Open Cup has no barriers for our entry into the tournament. This single-elimination, bracket-style tournament seeks to find the best soccer club in the country, giving amateur, semi-pro, and professional teams a shot at the title. It got a little more complicated this season, but suffice it to say that MNUFC2 didn’t have to qualify for the USOC; they got in on the ground floor and made it to the Third Round. I won’t share my personal thoughts on the way this tournament may or may not be changing in the coming years, but let me just say that THIS is my favorite trophy in all of American soccer, and no one can change my mind on that.

Finally, we come to Leagues Cup, the newest competition that we automatically qualify for. This World Cup-style tournament pits Liga MX against MLS, with 15 groups of three battling for a spot in the knockout stage. The top team from each league receives an automatic spot in the knockout bracket, with the Crew and Club America earning those spots this year based on their league-performance last season. The top two from each group move on to duke it out in single elimination to earn their place as the best team in North America. It’s a month long, has tons of goals, and the Loons were on fire during it last year. Plus, Messi made his North American soccer debut by lifting the first Leagues Cup trophy, which is just two big bowls stacked on each other. You may not have to qualify to play in this one, but it’s a treat nonetheless.

Earn It

Alright, now I have some work to do. Most of us were already familiar with the first three competitions; we play in them every year, so you’ve had a chance to feel them out and get to know the little details. But these next two require a ticket to ride, and up to now, MNUFC hasn’t been able to find their ticket.

Let’s start with the biggest one: the Concacaf Champions Cup. This glorious tournament showcases the best soccer clubs in our neck of the woods, from Panama to Canada and everything in between. A total of 27 teams compete each year, five of whom are guaranteed to be from MLS. In order to qualify for one of these spots, we must either win MLS Cup, finish on top of the Western conference, or have one of the next two highest point totals in the league without winning one of the other designations.

We could also earn qualification via Leagues Cup, as the champion, runner-up, and third-place team all get an automatic spot in the following year’s CCC. Likewise, the U.S. Open Cup champion automatically qualifies, as well as the Canadian Championship winner. The remaining spots go to six Liga MX teams, two Canadian Premier League teams, six Central American teams, and three Caribbean teams. I won’t dive into the details of each region's qualification process, as the finer details of their qualifying journey could constitute an article of its own. We’ll save that for your offseason reading.

Now that we know who’s there, let’s talk about how it works. 22 of the 27 teams play in round one, with the remaining five receiving byes. These byes are handed out to the winners of the previous season’s MLS Cup, Concacaf’s Central American and Caribbean Cups, Leagues Cup, and the Liga MX Apertura or Clausura champion with the greatest point total. The first four rounds of the tournament are all two-legged affairs, with a home and away match for each team determining who goes through based on aggregate goal count. If the scores are tied, away goals are currently used as the first tie-breaker. If it’s still knotted after taking away goals into consideration, regular overtime principles apply: two 15-minute periods followed by penalties, if necessary. The final is a one-off match, the only round of the tournament that wraps up in 90 minutes. Unless it goes to extra-time, but now you’re just being nitpicky.

The only other competition in this bucket alongside the CCC is the Campeones Cup. It’s more of a friendly than anything else, but I like it, so I’m going to talk about it. This annual match between the reigning MLS Cup champs and the winner of the Campeón de Campeones match played between the Clausura and Apertura champions from Liga MX. Like I said, it’s not as big as the CCC, but it’s a fun little trophy nonetheless. The 2024 edition hasn’t been played yet, as Columbus await the winner of Club America and Tigres in the Campéon de Campeones on June 30.

Prove It

Now we find ourselves at the pinnacle of club competitions: the FIFA Club World Cup. This tournament pits the best of the best from each federation against one another, and though it’s seen different variations throughout the years, the underlying idea behind it has always been the same. This is the only place where the Real Madrids of the world might play an MLS team in a competitive match with silverware on the line.

In the past, the Club World Cup has had a total of seven teams: six federation champions from across the globe and one nominated team from the host country. The Seattle Sounders are the only MLS team to participate in the competition, courtesy of their 2022 Concacaf Champions Cup victory.

Moving forward, though, things are changing. In 2025, the Club World Cup is coming to the USA, and the field is expanding to 32 teams. This includes Champions League/Champions Cup winners from every federation going back to 2021, as well as a handful of teams that qualified via a more complicated ranking pathway. All you really need to know is that a maximum of two MLS teams could represent, and Seattle is the only one already confirmed. The Columbus Crew could have qualified by beating Pachuca, but their loss leaves just the host nation nomination left to allow another MLS team to join the fun.

This new format is set to be played every four years, giving teams time to build something special to showcase on what will effectively be the biggest stage in club soccer. It will follow the regular World Cup format, with eight groups of four playing a round-robin group stage before the top two teams from each group advance to a knockout bracket.

So what have we learned? There’s a lot more to life than what we’re given. With a little bit of sustained dedication and hard work, any club could find themselves playing a meaningful match against the world’s best, and that means anyone can build the best club in the world if they’re willing to give it a shot. So let’s win a trophy or two and see where that takes us, alright? Why not us?