CONCACAF Champions League bigger priority than MLS-Liga MX merger - Montagliani

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CONCACAF is planning an expanded Champions League and president Victor Montagliani thinks the competition should take priority over any potential merger between MLS and Liga MX in the short and medium term, adding that European federations would be "raising their eyebrows" if the latter took place.

MLS and Liga MX announced a formal partnership in 2018, setting up Leagues Cup and Campeones Cup competitions, with the prospect of meaningful league play and a potential joint league between the two North American leagues also floated.

But for Montagliani, a merger is a difficult step at present and would likely have to be put on hold to see what the landscape looks like after the 2026 World Cup, when Canada, the United States and Mexico host the tournament.

"It goes back to the governance of the game, this is not a situation like the AFL [American Football League] and the NFL where the AFL just walks over to another building and says 'let's merge' and now you have an NFL, it's not that easy," said Montagliani, who was describing the merger between the two football leagues in the late-1960s, with Canada's OneSoccer. "This is not leagues merging, this is countries, so already it's a different dynamic."

Montagliani pointed out that CONCACAF, FIFA and other confederations would need to approve such a project, given it could have implications in other regions.

"I can already see the Europeans raising their eyebrows," he said.

Montagliani sees the immediate future of real competition between Liga MX and MLS in the CONCACAF Champions League, which is set to grow, and stated that Liga MX and MLS offices have bigger priorities right now, with the coronavirus pandemic sweeping the world and both leagues currently suspended.

"We're going to have an expanded Champions League and I think that, to be honest with you, in the short term and medium term that will be the vehicle to get those matchups that people are looking at," said Montagliani. "In terms of any type of super league, even Central America is talking about creating a super league among their seven countries, which would be a very interesting sort of discussion, because they are already competitive, as you see with Olimpia knocking off the [Seattle] Sounders."

"A lot of those discussions I think are probably more post-2026 discussions, let's see what the football world looks like," he added. "But I think between now and 2026 you're going to see an expanded version of our Champions League."

Montagliani also broached the topic of World Cup qualifying, reasserting that the the Hexagonal phase is almost certain to be changed, but that it's difficult to know what the new format will look like until FIFA has a clear picture of how many international windows will be available.

"On the balance of probabilities, in terms of what is likely to happen, the current World Cup format will have to be changed, which ultimately means the Hex will have to be changed into some other form," he said. "Obviously it'll be bigger, but what that number is I don't know until we have a calendar."

Montagliani stressed that "sporting integrity" would be a priority and admitted that the FIFA rankings would have a role in a potentially expanded qualifying.

The 54-year-old also mentioned that a decision about the September international window, in which CONCACAF World Cup qualifying was due to start, will be made shortly.