At long last, we know the format:
NEW YORK AND MEXICO CITY (October 6, 2022) – Major League Soccer (MLS) and LIGA MX, with the support of Concacaf, announced today important competition details, including dates, format and hosting process for the inaugural edition of the historic and highly-anticipated Leagues Cup 2023.
In a monumental new chapter for North American soccer, beginning in 2023, MLS and LIGA MX will pause their respective league seasons each summer and all 47 first division clubs in Canada, Mexico and the United States will compete in the World Cup-style tournament.
This announcement sets the stage for the annual, month-long competition that will crown the winner among MLS and LIGA MX. The champion, as well as the second and third place finishers will qualify for the Concacaf Champions League and an opportunity to earn a spot in the FIFA Club World Cup.
Leagues Cup 2023 will begin on Friday, July 21 with the final taking place on Saturday, August 19. The tournament will be played across the U.S. and Canada.
Leagues Cup Format
An event unprecedented in the global game, the inaugural Leagues Cup will consist of 77 matches.
Group Stage, Seeding and Hosting: For Leagues Cup 2023, one club each from MLS and LIGA MX will receive a bye past the Group Stage and enter the tournament in the Round of 32. MLS will be represented by the 2022 MLS Cup winner. For LIGA MX, of the two recent champions in Clausura 2022 and Apertura 2022, the club with the most combined points accumulated across both tournaments in the 2022 calendar year will qualify directly into the Round of 32. The remaining 45 clubs will be divided into 15 groups of three clubs each. The 15 groups will be divided into four regions.
The Group Stage placement for MLS teams will be based on the final 2022 Supporters’ Shield standings. The top 15 MLS Clubs will each be placed in groups based on seeding, as well as by region, and will host two matches each. The top 15 LIGA MX clubs – based on the combined Clausura 2022 and Apertura 2022 standings – will be placed into groups in reverse order from the MLS clubs (No. 15 LIGA MX seeded club will be paired with No. 1 MLS seeded club and so on). There will be at least one LIGA MX club per group.
The remaining 13 MLS clubs together with the 2 remaining LIGA MX clubs, will be divided geographically and drawn into groups. The 13 MLS clubs will each host one Group Stage match each. LIGA MX v. LIGA MX matches will be played at select venues depending on region. The Leagues Cup 2023 schedule and details will be announced in the coming months.
Every team will play two matches in the Group Stage, with the top two teams from each group, as determined by points, advancing to the Knockout Stage Round of 32. For tiebreakers and other competition items, the Leagues Cup 2023 Competition Guidelines will be published in the coming months.
No matches in the Leagues Cup Group Stage will end in a tie. Each team receives one point if the game is tied after 90 minutes. The winner of the subsequent penalty kicks will earn an additional point. Regulation wins count as three points.
Knockout Rounds: Following the Group Stage, the advancing teams will be joined by the top MLS and LIGA MX clubs and will be placed in a fixed bracket to compete in the single-game elimination Knockout Rounds beginning with the Round of 32 (16 matches), followed by Round of 16 (eight matches). The eight advancing teams will compete in the Quarterfinals (four matches) before the two Semifinal matches.
Leagues Cup Final and Third-Place Game: The Leagues Cup 2023 Final and Third-Place game, which will determine the qualifiers in Concacaf Champions League, will be played on Saturday, August 19.MLS Release
Three-team groups are a scourge on this earth (I will not be googling the format of the 2026 World Cup, thanks), but the rest is solid. Seeded MLS teams hosting two group-stage games each means that you’re guaranteed to host a Liga MX team and the MLS compatriot… Since Nashville SC currently sits 10th in the Supporter’s Shield standings and can only drop as far as 13th – only one of Portland/RSL and one of Orlando/Columbus could hypothetically pass them – the Boys in Gold will be one of the seeded teams, and there’s a 2/15 chance they’d be hosting a pair of Liga MX sides*
Advancing to the knockouts has got to be the goal for NSC.
Much more to come, but as fun as it was to face América last month, it’s going to be even more exciting when the matches are meaningful. Pausing the league season for a month is kind of a bummer but IMO worth it.
* Liga MX teams are shorted in terms of home games here, but that’s by design: their preference is to play games in the United States in front of Mexican expats.