Your 2012 CONCA-Calendar
Posted on January 22, 2012 1:28 am
As I mentioned last week, the original plan for my 2012 kickoff included a preview of what we will be covering over the next year. Then CONCACAF decided to perform reconstructive surgery on its Champions League, leaving me no choice but to start with a reaction to the announced changes. On the bright side, the news directly affects the following entry, so I can incorporate the revised fixtures accordingly.
As regular readers know, my coverage of CONCACAF football focuses on the three main tournaments in our region: World Cup qualifying, the Gold Cup and the Champions League. The leagues and sub-regional tournaments that feed into them also receive my attention, as well as the FIFA championships that await the winners. Taking all these competitions into account, here is a month-by-month calendar of what to expect over the next year.
The only continental action on offer is the Women’s Olympic qualifying tournament, outside of The Regional Review’s sphere of interest. However, the Clausura tournaments have begun in Mexico and Central America, with only one exception. In Belize, elections for the Premier League Executive Committee took place at the end of last year, but no date has been set for the new first division’s inauguration.
We will have to wait a little bit longer for the return of CONCACAF’s main competitions; but while the Clausura tournaments continue in Mexico and Central America, the CFU Football Committee should get around to deciding on the formats for the CFU Club Champions Cup and the Caribbean Cup. I highly doubt that Luis Hernandez and co. will wait until March to make the necessary announcements, since clubs and national teams will need time to prepare before returning to international competition. As always, I will start covering these two tournaments in depth once teams are two stages away from qualifying for the CCL and the Gold Cup, respectively.
After a long, four-month break, the current CONCACAF Champions League will return to action with the knockout round. The quarterfinals will take place over the first two weeks, while the semifinals will begin in the last week.
This month will be marked by the end of the 2011-12 CCL, with the semifinals finishing up at the beginning and the champion crowned at the end. Also, the Caribbean national teams should find themselves either at or near the ultimate round of qualifying for the Caribbean Cup, with defending-champion Jamaica the only one guaranteed to appear in the finals (the host has yet to be determined). Finally, we will be attentive to the fortunes of the Apertura champions in Central America, as they attempt to wrap up the top seed for their respective countries in the next CCL by finishing with the best full-year season record.
If Caribbean cup qualifying has not already come to an end, the last round will surely finish up this month. There will be much more action at the club level, though: all 13 remaining berths in the 2012-13 CCL will be filled with qualifiers from the Canadian Championship, the CFU Club Champions Cup and Clausura tournaments in Mexico and Central America.
Halfway into 2012, we arrive at the main course: the semifinal round of World Cup qualifying will kick off with two summer matchdays. The national-team action does not end there: although nothing in Caribbean football can be taken for granted under the circumstances, the 2012 Caribbean Cup finals has been slated to begin in June. Here I will be primarily interested in the group stage, since the top two finishers in each group will qualify for the 2013 Gold Cup.
The Caribbean Cup may extend into July, but after the group stage my interest will wane…vis-a-vis The Regional Review; if Haiti is still around, then absolutely I will have my eyes glued to the tournament. More importantly, the last day of July will double as the first day of the new-and-”improved” CONCACAF Champions League, with all 24 teams participating in the group stage. We will see how attendance and results go with these first few matches, given that the hosts only get one more home game in this round. I should add that the semifinals of the US Open Cup will take place on July 10…
…and the Final on August 7 or 8. Given the changes in Major League Soccer’s regular season – the stronger Western Conference teams will face each other more often – there is little chance of the Supporter’s Shield winner being determined early, leaving the US Open Cup Champion to claim the first spot in the 2013-14 CCL. The 2012-13 edition will continue with the first matchday finishing up on August 1 and 2, and two more matchdays guaranteeing that all 24 teams get to make their debut.
World Cup qualifying returns with two more matchdays in the semifinal round; and for some reason, all 12 teams will be playing home-and-away series. I can already give away that Mexico-Costa Rica will probably be the most entertaining, although Canada’s two-fer with Panama will have more impact on which of the two reaches the Hex (if not both). Matchdays 4 and 5 of the 2012-13 CCL will also take place, by which point a couple of clubs will have won their groups early and guaranteed themselves a place in the knockout round.
Both the semifinal round of World Cup qualifying and the group stage of the CCL will draw to a close, in that order. While those two competitions will grab most of the attention, I will also keep track of the Supporter’s Shield race in the MLS regular season. The winner will not only get to host the MLS Cup Final (should they make it), but they will receive the second US berth in the 2013-14 CCL and the first top seed in the group stage. Needless to say, if a Canadian team wins the trophy, the continental rewards will pass down to the best US finisher.
While this month will matter more in baseball than football, MLS and the Apertura tournaments in Mexico and Central America will all reach the playoff stage. I will swoop in once each league is two rounds away from qualifying clubs to the next CCL: the quarterfinals in MLS and Mexico, and the semifinals in the big leagues in Central America. The MLS Cup semifinals will take place in this month, after which the US spots in the next CCL will be filled up.
Starting with the MLS Cup Final on December 1, this month will feature league championships all over North and Central America, with seven more CCL qualifiers emerging from Mexico and Central America. Lastly, the 2011-12 CCL champion will head out to Japan for the 2012 FIFA Club World Cup, with the bare minimum goal of reaching the semifinals – the first time a CONCACAF team will have done so since Atlante in 2009.