The region's top international club football competition, the CONCACAF Champions League, kicks off in mid-summer and it's a good time to take stock of the leagues that will compete for the top honor in the confederation. This ranking is numerically based, compiling the average goal differential by league of the last five competitions. That's a good start but the Champions League isn't a great indication of the overall quality of a league because only the top clubs are represented, so an adjustment for the league's depth is also included to assess the overall league. The methodology for the calculation as well as last year's ranking can be seen here.
In addition to the Champions League, five years of results from Copa MX, the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup and the Caribbean Football Union Club Championship are also included to assess a broader set of leagues. Overall 30 leagues from the region were scored leading to the best fifteen leagues in the North and Central America and the Caribbean. The total expected goal difference is intended to estimate the result of an average team in the league playing against an average Liga MX on neutral soil.
15. Premier League of Belize
The Premier League of Belize, formed in 2011, made its first appearance in the CONCACAF Champions League during the 2015-16 campaign. The representative Verdes FC had extremely mixed results, but good enough to warrant the last spot on this ranking. The most promising result was a 0-0 home draw against semifinalist Queretaro from Liga MX. Unfortunately they lost the road tie 8-0. They also beat Panamanian side San Francisco 2-1 before again losing 8-0 on the road. Even though the league only supports six clubs it is fairly competitive with the fifth place side having a -2 goal differential during the last campaign.
14. Ligue Haitienne
League champion Don Bosco will be the first Haitian club to compete in the upcoming CONCACAF Champions League since 2013. While they sparsely attend the CCL they are a strong force within the Caribbean Football Union's Club Championship. Haitian clubs boast the third best average goal differential in the annual tournament over the last five years, and as such, Ligue Haitienne is the third ranked Caribbean league in the ranking. The league is currently twenty teams strong and very competitive as nine different clubs have won the title in the last ten seasons.
13. TT Pro League
Seeing the Trinidad & Tobago first division so far back in the rankings may surprise some. After all, Trinidad & Tobago clubs have dominated the CFU Club Championship, posting winners or runners-up in eight of the last ten tournaments. They've also performed the best of the Caribbean countries in the CONCACAF Champions League. Trouble is the ten team league is not very competitive. Central FC, last season's champion, averaged nearly a +2 goal differential per game against the competition. The bottom five clubs in the league have combined for one title in their history. W Connection and Defence Force are two other clubs that form a dominant trio at the top of the league.
12. Primera Division de Nicaragua
Nicaraguan clubs have historically struggled in the CONCACAF Champions League and the Primera Division is dominated by essentially one club, Real Esteli. Over the last eighteen Champions League matches Nicaraguan sides have drawn just three and lost the rest. On the good side they don't lose by much. In their fifteen losses they've lost by just 1.6 goals per game, and 1.8 against Mexican sides. Real Esteli has won nine of the last ten league titles and overall the league is the least deep league in Central America.
11. The National Premier League (Jamaica)
Jamaica's top division is the most competitive league in the Caribbean. Five of the twelve clubs boast at least four titles, with Tivoli Gardens, Portmore United and Santos leading with five. The clubs that make it through to the CONCACAF Champions League haven't performed as well as those that hail from Trinidad and Tobago but the quality of depth in the league is nearly as good as seen in Liga MX and MLS.
10. Salvadoran Primera Division
El Salvadorian clubs are 1-3-12 (W-D-L) in their last sixteen CONCACAF Champions League appearances. The lone victory was Isidro Metepan's 2-0 result over Costa Rica's historic Herediano side during last year's tournament. The league is reasonably competitive as five clubs were within five points of the title during the 2015 Apertura season.
9. Liga Nacional de Guatemala
Comunicaciones and Municipal are the storied clubs that typically dominate Guatemala's Liga Nacional. The league has had reasonable success in the CONCACAF Champions League with a 9-4-11 (W-D-L) record over the last three campaigns, though no club has reached the quarterfinal round. Recently the league has shown it can be competitive as well. Neither Comunicaciones or Municipal, owners of 59 league trophies between them, will represent Guatemala in this year's CCL as Antigua GFC and Suchitepequez secured that honor.
8. United Soccer League
Up two places in this year's ranking is the aggressively growing USL, the United States' third division league. Over the last two US Open Cup tournaments the USL has a 1-5-12 (W-D-L) record against MLS sides in regulation and added time, with six of the twelve losses coming by one goal. That means that two of three games are within one goal of MLS clubs. The twenty nine side league also shows very strong depth given its size. Five teams in the Western Conference were within two points of the regular season lead during the 2015 season.
7. Liga Nacional de Futbol Profesional de Honduras
The Hondurans are 10-3-11 (W-D-L) during the Group Stage of the last three CONCACAF Champions Leagues, including a quarterfinal appearance in 2015 by legendary club Olimpia. The league also has good depth as evidenced by the fact that four different clubs have represented the country over that same stretch. This year a fifth club will compete in the CCL as Honduras Progreso joins Olimpia after winning the 2015 Apertura season.
6. Liga Panamena de Futbol
Panama has slipped a bit during the last two CONCACAF Champions League seasons sporting just a 5-1-10 record (W-D-L). As a result they dropped from five to six in this year's ranking. That may in part be due to the fact that Panama scores as the most competitive league in Central America. Six different clubs have taken the last seven championships leading to a wide open and unpredictable league.
5. North American Soccer League
Up two spots from last year's survey the United States' second division didn't so much improve their stature as they managed to hold their place while other leagues slipped. NASL is 2-3-6 against MLS sides in U.S. Open Cup competition over the last two tournaments, showing it is stronger than it's close competitor the USL. The eleven team league is competitive as well. The worst team in the league typically has no worse than a negative goal differential of -0.6 goals per game.
4. Costa Rican Primera Division
Costa Rica has a trio of clubs that dominate the Primera Division: Alajuelense, Deportivo Saprissa and Herediano. They have combined for 86 of the 103 championships awarded and the last thirteen in a row. They've also sent four teams to the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals during the last three seasons. The trouble with this league is that it is not very competitive after the big three. During the last two seasons the big three have averaged a goal differential of slightly better than one goal per game. The fourth place team has averaged 0.4 goal differential per game and the fifth place team averages zero. Just four teams perform above average. That said the three clubs that serve as a banner for this league can beat any club in the confederation on any given day.
T-2. Ascenso MX
Ties aren't appealing but in this case the difference between Ascenso MX, Mexico's second division, and Major League Soccer is too close to call. During the Copa MX Ascenso teams have a goal difference against their Liga MX counterparts of -0.4. In CONCACAF Champions League competition MLS sides average a -0.8 goal differential against Liga MX. The difference is that MLS sides play the best sides in Mexico, while those teams are excused from Copa MX. So the difference all comes down to the adjustments made for the depth of each league. The calculations I used to do that put these two teams in a tie. Mexico has a very rich and deep soccer culture and it shouldn't come as a surprise that their top two leagues have the quality at the top of the region in terms of quality.
T-2. Major League Soccer
MLS apologists will argue that the timing of the CCL quarterfinals, the first time that Mexican and MLS sides could play each other, works against MLS sides. The quarterfinals take place in February and are during the peak Liga MX season, while MLS sides are in training camp for their upcoming season. If we were able to adjust for this timing issue it's probably true that MLS would perform better and therefore should be the clear runner up for best league in CONCACAF. No such results exist though, and it's difficult to estimate what a mid-season MLS side would be able to achieve against top Mexican sides. Major League Soccer is very deep, sporting twenty clubs and no clear dominant ones over the last few seasons.
1. Liga MX
By a mile Liga MX dominates this part of the world from a club football perspective. Mexican sides have won the last thirteen incarnations of the CONCACAF Champions League and last year they put all four of their teams in the semifinals. It will be a long while before any league in CONCACAF can consistently take on Liga MX and stake claim to this throne.