After winning the third MLS Cup in club history, the Columbus Crew is back competing for continental bragging rights in the Concacaf Champions Cup.
As the 2023 league champions, the Club earned a bye in Round One and will face the winner of Houston Dynamo FC and St. Louis CITY SC in the Round of 16. The Crew’s first match will be away on Wednesday, March 6 and second will be hosted at Lower.com Field on Tuesday, March 12. Tickets are available now for the home leg of the Round of 16.
Here’s everything you need to know before the Black & Gold compete to be named the best team in North America.
What is Concacaf Champions Cup?
The Concacaf Champions Cup is the tournament that determines the best club in North America. This competition combines clubs from all over North America, Central America and the Caribbean into one event. Beginning in February and ending June 2, this tournament will be played in addition to league campaigns, meaning the Crew could have an early cup run this summer before another one later in the year – fingers crossed.
As you know, Major League Soccer combines teams from the U.S. and Canada. Leagues Cup features MLS and Liga MX teams from Mexico. All three nations will field sides in Concacaf Champions Cup as well as teams in Costa Rica, Jamaica, Panama and more.
The Concacaf Champions Cup format
Because this is a revision of previous tournament, there’s also a new qualifying system.
Concacaf Champions Cup is composed of five rounds: Round One, Round of 16, Quarterfinals, Semifinals and the Final. The first four stages of the competition have home and away legs – so the Crew is guaranteed a home match at Lower.com Field in every round until the Final. As for the Final, that will be a single-elimination championship. (Get your passports ready!)
Twenty-seven teams will participate in Concacaf Champions Cup and 22 of them play in Round One. As noted, Columbus has already secured a spot in the Round of 16 as the MLS Cup champion and faces the winner of Houston Dynamo FC and St. Louis CITY SC.
The tournament is using a ranking system to place teams in their respective matches. As for Crew, the side is ranked No. 8 – the second-highest rating of an MLS team. The Philadelphia Union holds the fifth seed. Club América, who the Crew beat at Lower.com Field last summer in Leagues Cup, holds the top ranking in Concacaf Champions Cup.
How clubs qualified for the Concacaf Champions Cup
Three teams qualified via the Leagues Cup: the winner (Inter Miami CF), runner-up (Nashville SC) and third-place finisher (Philadelphia).
Five MLS teams qualified for the Concacaf Champions Cup: the MLS Cup champion (Columbus), the Supporters’ Shield winner (FC Cincinnati), the opposite conference winner (St. Louis) and the two next best clubs (Orlando City SC) and (New England Revolution).
Six Liga MX sides qualified: the best performing Apertura or Clausura Champion (Pachuca), the other Apertura or Clausura Champion (Tigres), the Clausura runner-up (Chivas Guadalajara), the Apertura runner-up (Toluca) and the two next-best clubs (Club América) and (CF Monterrey).
Two Canadian Premier League clubs also qualified: the postseason champion (Forge FC) and the regular season champion (Calvary FC).
Two more North American teams qualified: the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup champion (Houston) and the Canadian Championship champions (Vancouver Whitecaps).
Teams hailing from Central America will compete after their performances in the Concacaf Central American Cup. These clubs competed in a round robin tournament, then through knockout stage play. In total six teams from the Central American Cup qualified for Concacaf Champions Cup: the champion (Alajuelense), the runner up (Real Esteli), the two losing semifinalists (Herediano and Independiente) and two play-in winners (Saprissa and Comunicaciones).
Teams competing in the Concacaf Champions Cup also qualified through the Concacaf Caribbean Cup. Similar to the Concacaf Central American Cup, teams were divided into groups, then advanced through knockout stages. Three teams from this region then qualified for the continent’s main tournament: the Caribbean Cup winner (Robinhood), the runner-up (Cavalier) and the third-place side (Moca FC).
What’s at stake
Sure, there’s a continental trophy to win in Concacaf Champions Cup, but winning the tournament would secure the Crew a spot in the 2025 FIFA Club World Cup. At that point, if the Crew won Concacaf Champions Cup, the Black & Gold would compete against teams around the globe to determine the best club on the planet.
The 2024 Concacaf Champions Cup winner will secure the fourth and final spot to represent the continent in the 2025 FIFA Club World Cup. The Champions League winners from 2021 (CF Monterrey), 2022 (Seattle Sounders FC) and 2023 (Club Leon) will also participate in the 2025 FIFA Club World Cup.
Who’s up for a Crew tournament match against Manchester City, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich or Flamengo?
The Crew’s Concacaf Champions Cup history
This March marks the fifth time the Black & Gold have competed in the continental tournament. The Club last participated in 2021 on the heels of the 2020 MLS Cup title. In 2021, Columbus reached the competition’s quarterfinals after playing a couple of matches at Historic Crew Stadium. Of course, this means the 2023 cup run will be the first time the Concacaf Champions Cup is played at Lower.com Field.
Columbus has reached the quarterfinals on four occasions, including in 2003, 2009-10, 2010-11 and 2021. Edson Buddle and Steven Lenhart are the club’s all-time leading scorers in the competition with four goals each. Emmanuel Ekpo has made the most tournament appearances with 14.
Crew ticket info for 2023 Concacaf Champions Cup
Again, the Crew’s Round of 16 opponent isn’t finalized yet between Houston and St. Louis, but Black & Gold supporters already have a date to circle on their calendars.
Columbus will host a Round of 16 match on Tuesday, March 12. Kickoff is scheduled for 6 p.m. For those wanting single-game tickets, claim your seat to see the Crew compete on the continental stage.
Bring your crew
Secure your seat to cheer on the reigning MLS Cup champion Columbus Crew at Lower.com Field this season!