There's been a major change to the rules of CONCACAF Champions League, with CONCACAF accepting MLS' request that a Champions League berth no longer be given to the MLS Cup runner up. Instead, the CCL spot will go to the winner of the conference opposite the Supporters' Shield winner. This season it will go to the Portland Timbers, rewarding them for their regular season performance even though Real Salt Lake was able to upset them on their way to the final.
This means that two of the CCL berths will now be decided by regular season play, with one determined by the post-season tournament and one decided by the US Open Cup tournament. There would be little uproar about RSL being in Champions League next year, but in years past having a team that made an underdog run to the Cup final could take away a spot from a team with a much better resume. Were this rule in place last season, 63 point Sporting Kansas City would have made CCL instead of the 53 point Houston Dynamo.
"Achievement in the MLS regular season is important," said MLS Executive Vice President for Competition, Technical and Game Operations, Nelson Rodriguez. "Awarding a spot to the points leader from both conferences is a worthy reward and confers greater importance on regular season matches."
Given the allocation money that goes along with CCL, this puts a great deal on the line for the final month of the regular season which MLS scheduling has begun to skew toward inter-conference battles. A dramatic conclusion to the season is good for everyone involved.
As with the other MLS CCL spots, Canadian clubs cannot qualify for the CCL due to MLS play. If a Canadian team is the winner of the conference opposite the shield winner, the berth goes to the MLS team with the next best record regardless of conference. Same goes for any duplicate winners.
MLS submitted the request for this rule change in January, although it wasn't announced as approved until CONCACAF got together for their CONCACAF awards today.