The stretch run of the regular season isn’t the only thing on MLS managers’ minds these days. The CONCACAF Champions League returns this week, as all but one of the MLS clubs in participation look to advance out of the group stage before the weekend.

Here’s where we stand:  

The LA Galaxy have already clinched their spot in the quarterfinal, the Montreal Impact have already been eliminated and Sporting KC, the Houston Dynamo and the San Jose Earthquakes need positive results this week to keep their CCL hopes alive.  With the goal of this major trophy coming back into focus, we thought we’d break down the history of America’s Champions League for you. 

What is the CCL?

The CONCACAF Champions League, originally known as the CONCACAF Champions’ Cup, is an annual continental club football competition that has been played amongst North, Central American and Caribbean professional football clubs since 1962.  Similar to the Champions League tournaments of other federations around the world, the CCL puts the top teams in CONCACAF against each other for the chance to be crowned as the best club in the region. The winner of the tournament also gets the opportunity to go to the FIFA Club World Cup and take on the champions from all of the other federations in world football. 

From 1962 to 2008 the tournament was known as the CONCACAF Champions Cup. The former iteration of the regional tournament was played under a variety of formats, with the latest, used from 2004 to 2008, including eight teams competing – four from the North American zone (two from America/Canada and two from Mexico), three from the Central American zone, and one from the Caribbean zone. However it was not until 2005 that the winner of the final also earned that trip to challenge the best in the world at the FIFA Club World Cup. 

In 2006 the CONCACAF Executive Committee decided to act upon a proposal first made in 2003 by then Head of Special Projects Mel Brennan to develop the CONCACAF Champions’ Cup into a larger “Champions League” style event. The first, newly expanded Champions League format ran from August 2008 to May 2009. The tournament now includes 24 teams initially and features a Preliminary Round that whittles the field down to 16 teams that make up the group stage. 

The four teams that qualify from the United States are the two MLS Cup finalists, the winner of the MLS Supporters’ Shield (the team with the best regular-season record), and the winner of the U.S. Open Cup.  If the same team or a Canadian team finishes the season in multiple qualification places, then the American MLS team(s) with the best regular-season records not already qualified earn a trip to the tournament. 

Cruz Azul and Club América have both won the title a record five times. MLS clubs have won the tournament only two times. D.C. United prevailed over Mexico’s Toluca 1-0 in 1998 and the LA Galaxy bested Olimpia of Honduras by a score of 3-2 in 2000. No MLS team has won the title in the Champions League era. Real Salt Lake hosted the 2011 final but fell 3-2 on aggregate to Monterrey of Mexico, who has gone on to win the past three editions of the CCL.  Qualifying for and eventually winning the CCL will be a priority from the moment NYCFC takes the field in 2015.