Look out, Concacaf – the Lions are on the prowl.
As the 2022 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup champions, Orlando City has qualified for the 2023 Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League, the Club’s first time entering the prestigious competition. City is one of 16 clubs in the tournament, which will take place from March 7 through June 4 and be interspersed throughout the MLS regular-season schedule.
We won’t have to wait long to find out the Lions’ path to continental glory. On Monday, the official Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League draw will take place in Miami. Let’s take a deep dive into the field and the teams Orlando City could potentially face:
MLS (five teams)
The Lions are one of five MLS teams entering the tournament, though technically teams qualify through their country, not their league (this will be important in a minute). The United States officially receives four slots, while Canada receives one.
The American slots are broken down as follows – the MLS Cup champion, the MLS Supporters’ Shield winner, the U.S. Open Cup champion and the conference champion from the side that did not win the Shield.
Orlando City occupies the Open Cup slot. Los Angeles FC has qualified as the Shield winners, and Philadelphia Union are in as the non-Shield conference champions.
Here’s where it gets complicated. MLS Cup, set for this Saturday, Nov. 5, features LAFC and the Union, who have both already qualified for the tournament. This opens up a vacancy, which is taken by the next-highest team in the Shield table. That team is CF Montréal – but remember what we said about Canada getting only one slot? That comes from the Canadian Championship, won this year by Vancouver Whitecaps FC. This eliminates Montréal from contention, and means the next-best team, Austin FC, steps into their place.
Mexico (four teams)
Mexican qualification for SCCL is very simple. The Liga MX calendar is split into two seasons, the Apertura (July to December) and the Clausura (January to May), crowning two champions each year. The winners of the Apertura and the Clausura as well as the runners-up fill Mexico’s four SCCL slots. Easy, right?
There is a twist this year.
Atlas, who have never qualified for SCCL in their history, won both the Apertura and the Clausura in a banner year for the club, defeating Club León in the 2021 Apertura final to end a 70-year championship drought and then doubling up their glory by knocking off Pachuca in the 2022 Clausura final. Atlas is the third team in the history of Liga MX to win back-to-back championships, though their good form did not last into the 2022 Apertura, where they are currently 17th out of 18 clubs.
Due to Atlas occupying two slots, the final Mexican slot goes to the team with the most points across both the Apertura and Clausura combined. For 2021-22, that team was Tigres UANL, one of the most storied clubs in Mexican soccer, who won the 2020 SCCL at Exploria Stadium.
Central America and the Caribbean (seven teams)
A recent innovation in SCCL qualifying is the Concacaf League, taking place for the sixth and final time in 2022 before format changes come to SCCL in 2024. Six Central American teams qualify for SCCL through this tournament, which began with 22 teams back in July.
Olimpia of Honduras won the two-legged final 5-4 on aggregate over Alajuelense of Costa Rica, though the result was irrelevant for qualification purposes, as both were already in. The two semifinalists, Honduran sides Real España and Motagua, take up spots three and four, while the two highest-ranked quarterfinalists, Alianza of El Salvador and Tauro of Panama, take up spots five and six.
The Caribbean gets one representative in SCCL through the 2022 Caribbean Club Championship, a much older tournament (24 years) that also takes a final bow this year before the upcoming format change. Haitian side Violette took the spot by defeating Dominican side Cibao in the final back in May.