mls

MLS and Liga MX to participate in Leagues Cup during month-long pause of regular season

From MLS release:

NEW YORK & MEXICO CITY (Sept. 21, 2021) – In a monumental new chapter for North American soccer, beginning in 2023,all of the clubs from the top two first division leagues in North America — Major League Soccer and LIGA MX — will compete in a completely reimagined Leagues Cup: an annual, month-long , tournament. Both leagues will pause their respective seasons for one month during the summer to play Leagues Cup, showcasing the soccer infrastructure and capabilities in the region in the years leading into the 2026 FIFA World Cup in the U.S., Canada and Mexico — the first World Cup to feature 48 countries.

FIFA Vice President and Concacaf President Victor Montagliani joined MLS Commissioner Don Garber and Liga MXPresident Mikel Arriola at a press conference in New York for today’s historic announcement. Montagliani, Garber and Arriola announced that the new Leagues Cup will be an official competition of the Concacaf Champions League (CCL), with the tournament champion earning automatic qualification for the CCL round of 16. In addition, clubs finishing second and third in Leagues Cup starting in 2023 will qualify for the Opening Round of the CCL. 

As the latest and most ambitious step in the growing partnership between MLS and LIGA MX to further elevate the special rivalry between leagues, Leagues Cup 2023 will make history as the first major soccer tournament to feature every club from a pair of top-flight leagues. 

 “The new Leagues Cup with every club in MLS and LIGA MX competing in an intense, month-long, tournament will establish new standards for what is possible between our two leagues, and further showcase our players and clubs to a global audience,” said MLS Commissioner Don Garber. “Since its launch 3½ years ago, our partnership with LIGA MX has grown quickly and the competition has brought out the best in both of us. On the path to the FIFA World Cup in 2026 hosted by the U.S., Canada and Mexico, this is the perfect moment to produce a tournament that will elevate the profile of Concacaf and showcase the incredible passion our region has for soccer played at the highest level.” 

Mikel Arriola, Executive President of LIGA MX said, “We are in a celebratory mood given the historic announcement about the new competition ecosystem established by Concacaf in which there will be an expansion of Leagues Cup. This is an example of coordination and goal alignment between the Confederation, MLS and LIGA MX. All parties involved converged on the objective to provide the fans of North American Futbol and all over the world greater entertainment and spectacle, provide MLS and LIGA MX clubs a more intensified competition schedule to raise playing standards and quality. In this way, economic benefits can be reinvested creating a virtuous cycle assisting the development of players, clubs, and marketing opportunities for futbol and sports in general.” Arriola closed by stating, “This day represents a before and after for the whole North America, Central America, and Caribbean regions as they will greatly benefit from this agreement.” 

The new Leagues Cup will be a joint venture between Major League Soccer and LIGA MX — two of global soccer’s most competitive, popular and exciting leagues — both full of rising and established stars who compete for dozens of national teams throughout the world. MLS and LIGA MX generally rank among the top eight in attendance among global soccer leagues.

Leagues Cup 2023 and beyond is part of the evolution of the successful partnership between MLS and LIGA MX launched in 2018 with Campeones Cup. The partnership is rooted in the on-field rivalry but connected by a true spirit of collaboration off the field, with a focus on sharing best practices, growing the beautiful game in North America, and being a force for positive change in the communities of both leagues. In competition, recent initiatives have included the MLS All-Star Game presented by Target, where the best of MLS faced the LIGA MX All-Stars in Los Angeles on August 25, and Campeones Cup, an annual match between the reigning champions of the two leagues. Columbus Crew SC will host Cruz Azul in the 2021 Campeones Cup on Sept. 29.  Leagues Cup 2023 — and future editions of the tournament — is the grand-scale transformation of Leagues Cup, which began in 2019 and continues this season and in 2022. Seattle Sounders FC take on Club León in the 2021 Leagues Cup Final tomorrow, Sept. 22 at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas.

Additional details regarding the annual, reimagined Leagues Cup will continue to be unveiled in the coming months.

Major League Soccer release

I’m always a fan of more cross-league competition, particularly in ways that are set up as separate from regular-season play (rather than seemingly designed to replace it).

The nature of such a competition does raise several questions, though:

  • Does it reduce MLS teams’ ability to participate in the US Open Cup? (If so, are there MLS mechanisms for given teams to qualify, does the league drop out entirely, or something else?)
  • Will the number of MLS regular-season matches be reduced to accommodate (keep in mind the season can’t be extended later, because the World Cup begins in late November in Qatar)?
  • If not, what’s going to happen with extreme fixture congestion?

Being able to see Nashville SC play (and potentially host) Mexican competition is extremely exciting, and while we don’t yet know the format of the competition, you can bet that the intention is for as many crossover games between the leagues – and with as many of those crossover games as possible taking place in the United States – as possible.

The nature of the competitive structure of the leagues is such that the top-end Liga MX sides are far and away better than anyone else in the region: using TransferMarkt as a proxy for team quality (and not gospel), there are three Liga MX teams significantly higher-valued and MLS’s most-expensive squad (Atlanta United), and there are five Liga MX squads with at least $13 million more in roster value than MLS’s No. 2 most-expensive team (NYCFC). However, including all teams through the depth of both leagues probably nets out positive for the US and Canada: adjusting for the average value per player (since Mexican teams carry much bigger roster on average), MLS spend outstrips Liga MX after the top eight or so teams:

Whipped it up real quick: Blue is MLS, Red is Liga MX

While Major League Soccer is still looking to get over the hump in Concacaf Champions League (and as a side note, it’s worth noting that this competition forms a new qualification mechanism for CCL), showing the depth of quality in the league can help change perceptions about the region’s balance of power, even if it’s a long time before anyone catches up to the Américas and Monterreys in terms of spend.

Certainly MLS has interested itself in competition with Liga MX rather than USL and the like (which is to say, setting its sights upward, rather than downward), and this may prove to be the next step in setting MLS as a competition of the continent, rather than one that sees itself fitting into a more-holistic US Soccer ecosystem.

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