CONCACAF Champions League vs Gold Cup

CONCACAF Champions League vs Gold Cup – What’s The Difference?

Last updated on June 26th, 2022

There are quite a few football competitions where teams from different countries will play against each other.

These games take place at both club and international levels.

If you’re from North America, you may have seen your club side compete in the CONCACAF Champions League, or your country may participate in the Gold Cup. However, which one is better and how are these competitions different?

Here’s what you need to know:

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The difference between the CONCACAF Champions League and the Gold Cup 

The CONCACAF Champions League is a club competition that involves the best clubs from North America, while the Gold Cup is competed by the national teams in the CONCACAF region.

Here’s an in-depth comparison between these 2 competitions: 

Number of teams involved

The CONCACAF Champions League has 16 teams in the actual tournament. The Gold Cup is also contested by 16 sides, each containing 4 groups of 4 teams.

This only includes the teams that were involved in the major tournaments. There will be quite a few teams that were involved in the qualifying rounds that did not make the cut.  

Frequency of the competition 

The CONCACAF Champions League is held every year, usually starting in mid-February. The 2021 edition, however, was delayed due to the pandemic with the competition starting in April.

Eventually, it was won by Mexican side CF Monterrey

Meanwhile, the Gold Cup is biennial and is played during the odd-numbered years. The latest tournament was held in 2021 and was won by The United States.

Duration of the competition

The Gold Cup takes place over the course of a month in the summer, usually between June and July or July and August. 

The CONCACAF Champions League, on the other hand, typically takes place across two months from February to April or early May.

The 2021 edition started in April due to the pandemic and concluded in October.

The old Champions League format had a group stage and subsequent knockout rounds before it was changed for the 2017/2018 season. 

Types of teams 

The CONCACAF Champions League is contested by the best clubs in North America. This involves the best performing teams in countries all across the continent. 

Meanwhile, the Gold Cup consists of 16 different national sides. 

This makes a difference because football clubs can choose the players they buy and sell. As such, it is easier to strengthen the personnel of a football team and build strong sides for every season. 

However, this is a bit different for national teams. Players are obligated to represent their own country and while it is possible to switch national teams, the player would have to meet certain criteria before doing so. 

Some countries may have a couple of well-known stars, while the rest of the team may not be of the same standard. 

An example is Robert Lewandowski who is the main star of the Polish national team. 

However, some countries like Brazil and England have really strong squads with top-level players throughout. 

Format of competition 

The CONCACAF Champions League employs a knockout format throughout the tournament, starting from the round of 16. 

The competition switched from a group stage and knockout format to a pure knockout round in 2018.


Each of the 16 teams is drawn against each other in a two-legged home and away tie in every round, except for the final, which is decided by a single-legged match.

If a tie is equal after the second leg, the away goal rule is the first tiebreaker, then a penalty shootout. For the final, the game goes to extra time if there’s a tie in regulation time, then a penalty shootout.

Meanwhile, the Gold Cup uses a group stage and knockouts format. The 16 teams are split into 4 groups of 4 teams, and the top 2 teams in each group qualify for the knockouts. 

In the event of two teams finishing on the same point, there are tiebreakers. You can check this article out to find out more. 

The Gold Cup knockout rounds start from the quarter-finals with single-leg matches for the rest of the tournament. 

Number of matches 

Assuming your team makes it to the final of the CONCACAF Champions League, they will have played 7 matches:

Round of 162
Quarter-Finals2
Semi-Finals2
Final1

The Gold Cup, on the other hand, will see your team play 1 less match if they reach the final:

Group Stage3
Quarter-Finals1
Semi-Finals1
Final1

This is because all of the knockout rounds are single-legged.

Squad size

The CONCACAF Champions League allows clubs to submit a roster of 30 players eligible to play the competition at least 7 days before their first CCL game. 

A final list of 23 players will then be submitted no less than 48 hours before every game.

Only 18 players are allowed in a matchday squad from the prior 23 names, consisting of 11 starting players and 7 substitutes. 

The Gold Cup’s squad rules are a lot more simple. A 23-man squad is to be named before the tournament and all 23 players are eligible to play every game barring suspension or injury. 

Qualification for the competition

16 teams from 3 different zones participate in the CONCACAF Champions League.

ZoneNumber of teams
North American Zone 9
Caribbean Zone1
Central American Zone 6

The North American Zone has the highest number of teams, and they will come from these countries:

Mexico4
US4
Canada1

For Candian teams in the MLS, they will qualify via the single Canadian spot, instead of the 4 US spots.

For the Gold Cup, qualification depends on the country’s performance in the CONCACAF Nations League.

CONCACAF Nations
League Group 
Qualified Teams# Of Teams
League ATop 2 teams
of each group
8
League BWinners of
each group
4

These 12 teams automatically qualify for the Gold Cup. The remaining 4 slots are decided by the Gold Cup Qualifiers, which involves:

  • 4 third-placed teams from League A 
  • 4 second-placed teams from League B 
  • 4 group winners of League C

Rewards for winning the competition

The winners of the CONCACAF Champions League will be crowned the best club in North America.

Furthermore, they will automatically qualify for the FIFA Club World Cup quarter-finals where they compete for the title of world champions. 

Meanwhile, your country will be the champions of the North American (CONCACAF) region by winning the Gold Cup.

Verdict

Here is a summary of the comparison between these two competitions:

CONCACAF Champions
League
CONCACAF
Gold Cup
Number of Teams1616
Frequency
of Competition
AnnuallyBiennially 
Duration
of Competition 
2 months1 month
Format
of Competition
Knockout round
(RO16)
Group stage +
knockout round (QF)
Number
of Matches
Up to 7Up to 6
Squad size 2323
QualificationZonal qualificationCONCACAF Nations League
+ Gold Cup Qualifiers 
Automatic
Qualification
None Only for the host nation
Rewards for
Winning The
Competition 
Best club
in CONCACAF +
quarter-final of
Club World Cup
Best country
in CONCACAF

Conclusion

Both the CONCACAF Champions League and the Gold Cup are prestigious competitions. However, the CONCACAF Champions League is a club competition while the Gold Cup is a national team tournament.

The question of which tournament is more prestigious may vary between players, depending on how highly they value the Gold Cup in relation to club success!

You can find out more about the differences between club football and international football here.

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