Whitecaps join Sounders and Galaxy in the Champions League

On 18 October 2014, at 1:02 PM, Pacific Standard Time, the Vancouver Whitecaps Football Club officially qualified for the 2015-16 CONCACAF Champions League. They join Seattle Sounders and Los Angeles Galaxy, who have already qualified by virtue of winning the US Open Cup and finishing no lower than second in MLS.

Each year, 24 clubs from 12 or 13 associations qualify for the Champions League. From there, they are drawn into eight groups of three. Each group is guaranteed to contain a club from either Mexico or the United States, and clubs from the same association cannot be drawn with each other at the group stage.

With only one club advancing from each group, the nightmare scenario would find Vancouver paired with Club América, who currently sit atop Liga MX's Apertura Table, and CSD Municipal, who are second in the National Football League of Guatemala. Such a pairing would most assuredly be given the nickname, "Group of Death", as it would represent the strongest possible opposition that CONCACAF could throw at the Caps.

When the groups are drawn, Vancouver will see a home and away match appear on their schedule with a club from one of Belize, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Panama, or the Caribbean, as well as one against a club from the Mexico or the United States.

Top their group as Montreal did earlier this year, and they'll be in the Quarterfinals, where it becomes a best of two from there on out.

 Could Frank Klopas lead Montreal to the promised land...

Could Frank Klopas lead Montreal to the promised land...

And therein lies the kernel of doubt for Vancouver's supporters. Could the Impact, who are fortunate that there is no relegation in MLS, go on to win the Champions League? Unlike their European counterparts, the winners of the CONCACAF Champions League do not automatically qualify for the following year's tournament.

In that most unlikely of scenarios, the CSA would be faced with the prospect of certifying Vancouver, who finished "highest in the combined league points table at the end of the 2014 regular MLS season", or allowing Montreal to defend that hypothetical title.

When the Football Association was faced with a similar decision in 2004, they elected to certify Arsenal, Chelsea, Everton, and Manchester United, who had qualified for the 2005-06 UEFA Champions League through the normal means. They left it up to UEFA to decide on what to do about Liverpool, who had won their Champions League in 2004, but failed to qualify for the following year's tournament.

In the end, UEFA granted Liverpool a special dispensation for the 2005-06 tournament, and thereafter rewrote the rulebook to spare themselves any future embarrassment. Ever since, the defending Champion automatically gets their association's last berth in the Champions League, unless they qualified on their own merit.

But as we pointed out earlier, CONCACAF has no such ruling. Would the CSA force CONCACAF's hand, or would they sacrifice Vancouver? It would be a no-win scenario for the CSA. Either way, they would come under harsh criticism.

No Canadian club has ever reached the finals, let alone won the tournament. Toronto reached the Semifinals in 2012, where they lost 7-3 to Santos Laguna over two legs. Montreal's best previous finish was a Quarterfinal appearance in 2008-09, also against Santos Laguna, which they lost 5-4 over two legs.

This year, the Impact are in the last eight, and anything can happen. As recently as 2012, the Houston Dynamo finished 9th in the MLS table, but still went on to reach the final of the Anschutz Cup, before losing to the Galaxy, who had finished 8th that year.

 ... or will Carl Robinson and the Vancouver Whitecaps make a run in Champions League?

... or will Carl Robinson and the Vancouver Whitecaps make a run in Champions League?

Montreal also have time on their side. The Quarterfinals take place in March, meaning that Montreal manager Frank Klopas will have five months and a transfer window to prepare his squad for the last eight. And Impact owner Joey Saputo has shown he isn't squeamish about pumping money into the club when there's a chance at silverware.

No matter how far Montreal go this year, Vancouver manager Carl Robinson is proceeding as if Vancouver will be in next year's edition.

"I need to build the squad. I need to build a bigger squad and a better squad. [The Champions League] will be very important for me when I'm trying to build, as well as the recruitment of players from abroad. So it'll be a busy offseason for me. There won't be much rest. But it will be very important when I'm trying to piece together a roster that I think can compete in the Champions League."

With the Champions League now secure, Robinson can turn his attention back to qualifying for the Anchutz Cup. And a win at BC Place against the visiting Colorado Rapids on Saturday would do just that.