Effective immediately, the winner of the conference opposite the MLS Supporters’ Shield winner will qualify for the regional Champions League tournament. The remaining three spots will continue to go to the winners of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, the MLS Regular Season Supporter’s shield and the MLS Cup.
The change is in keeping with Major League Soccer's trend of rewarding more consistent quality play and success throughout the season.
In the previous format, both teams qualifying to MLS Cup were the ones awarded two of the CONCACAF Champions League spots. Criticism raged around teams that blew off the first half of the season then sprinted to the MLS Championship.
“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."
The winner of the CONCACAF Champions League advances to the prestigious FIFA Club World Cup, which takes place every December.
The clubs representing U.S. in 2014-2015 Champions League, now:
Sporting Kansas City – MLS Cup 2013 champion
New York Red Bulls – MLS Supporters’ Shield winner in the 2013 regular season
Portland Timbers – MLS club with best regular season record in the conference opposite the MLS Supporters’ Shield winner
D.C. United – Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup 2013 champion
All MLS clubs were made aware of the proposed change prior to the start of the 2013 season and 2013 MLS Cup contender Real Salt Lake ceded the CCL qualification to the Portland Timbers, who had the best regular season record in the Western Conference.
If there's any duplication in the U.S. berths, or if a Canadian club captures a title, the U.S.-based MLS team with the next best regular season point total, irrespective of conference, will claim the slot. Canada's lone Champions League berth is awarded to the winner of the Canadian Championship.
MLS proposed the qualification change to US Soccer Federation, which was approved. US Soccer then submitted the request to CONCACAF.