Wednesday, 12 Jun 2024

Why MLS Teams Don’t Participate in the UEFA Champions League

MLS Champions League

The UEFA Champions League is a prestigious club soccer competition that captivates millions of fans worldwide. However, you may be wondering why American teams aren’t part of this historic tournament. In this article, we will explore the reasons behind this and shed light on the competitions that MLS teams do participate in.

A Matter of Geography

The simplest answer to this question lies in geography. The UEFA Champions League is exclusively open to professional European clubs that qualify from their domestic leagues. Since MLS is based in America, its teams are not eligible to compete in the Champions League.

Since its inception in 1955, the Champions League has been governed by UEFA, the European soccer governing body. And throughout its history, only European-based teams have been able to participate in this illustrious competition. As MLS teams are located in the United States, they are not members of UEFA and therefore cannot qualify for the Champions League.

What Competitions Can MLS Teams Qualify For?

While it may seem that MLS teams are excluded from playing on the biggest stage, they have their own version of the Champions League right here in North America. MLS teams are members of CONCACAF, which stands for the Confederation of North, Central America, and Caribbean Association Football. This governing body oversees all soccer-related activities in this region and organizes the CONCACAF Champions League.

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The CONCACAF Champions League is equally prestigious for teams in the US as the UEFA Champions League is for European teams. It was first held in 1962 and was initially known as the CONCACAF Champions’ Cup. In 2008, it was rebranded as the CONCACAF Champions League.

The Format of the CONCACAF Champions League

The CONCACAF Champions League underwent format changes in 2018 to extend the competition timeline and allow more teams to participate. The group stage was eliminated, and a new qualifying tournament, the CONCACAF League, was introduced.

In the early part of the soccer season, 22 teams from the CONCACAF region compete in the CONCACAF League, acting as a preliminary qualifying tournament for the main Champions League. The top six teams from this league advance to the CONCACAF Champions League.

Once the qualifying process is complete, the main tournament begins. The CONCACAF Champions League features 16 teams from across the Confederation who are randomly drawn against each other for four rounds until the Final. Each round, including the Final, consists of two legs where the teams play each other both home and away. The winner of each round progresses to the next. In case of a draw, the tie is decided by away goals, and if necessary, extra time and penalties are used. The Final takes place in May, and the winner is crowned the Tournament Winners.

MLS Teams in the CONCACAF Champions League

MLS teams have been participating in the CONCACAF Champions League since the 2008/09 season, previously taking part in the CONCACAF Champions Cup. Each season, up to five MLS teams, with a maximum of four from the US and one from Canada, can qualify for the competition.

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While MLS teams initially struggled to find success in the CONCACAF Champions League, in recent years, they have made significant progress. Teams like Real Salt Lake, CF Montréal, Los Angeles FC, Toronto FC, and Seattle Sounders have reached the Final, though only Seattle Sounders managed to win the tournament, becoming the current holders of the famous trophy.

Can MLS Teams Ever Face European Clubs?

Yes, MLS teams can indeed face European clubs, but it rarely happens in competitive fixtures. European clubs often visit North America during their pre-season preparations, taking advantage of the passionate American fans in exhibitions matches. The now-discontinued International Champions Cup provided a platform for MLS teams to play against European opponents.

For an MLS team to face a European side in a competitive fixture, both teams would need to win their respective Champions Leagues. This achievement would qualify them for the FIFA Club World Cup, an annual contest that determines the ultimate soccer champions.

In the upcoming FIFA Club World Cup, Seattle Sounders, winners of the CONCACAF Champions League, will be the first MLS team to participate. They could potentially face Real Madrid, the most prominent club in Europe. However, the odds favor Real Madrid, making it a major upset if the Sounders or any other MLS team were to defeat them.


Q: Why don’t MLS teams play in the UEFA Champions League?
A: MLS teams are based in America and therefore not eligible to compete in the UEFA Champions League, which is exclusively for European clubs.

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Q: What competition do MLS teams participate in?
A: MLS teams participate in the CONCACAF Champions League, organized by the Confederation of North, Central America, and Caribbean Association Football.

Q: Have any MLS teams won the CONCACAF Champions League?
A: Yes, Seattle Sounders won the CONCACAF Champions League and are the current holders of the trophy.


Now that you have a better understanding of why MLS teams don’t participate in the UEFA Champions League and the competitions they do take part in, impress your friends with your knowledge of North American soccer. While MLS teams may not compete against European clubs regularly, they have their own prestigious tournament that showcases the best soccer talent from the region.