Leagues Cup will create lasting impact on soccer in North America

The Tigres defeated the Houston Dynamo in the quarterfinals of the Concacaf Champions League en route to the 2019 final. (Photo by Azael Rodriguez/Getty Images)
The Tigres defeated the Houston Dynamo in the quarterfinals of the Concacaf Champions League en route to the 2019 final. (Photo by Azael Rodriguez/Getty Images) /

When the Leagues Cup was announced in May, North American soccer fans responded with a healthy dose of cynicism. Historically speaking, MLS clubs have not fared very well versus their Liga MX counterparts in any significant competition.

Most Liga MX fans insist their teams must return to Conmebol’s Copa Libertadores, arguing that by competing against the best clubs from South America the Mexican game will improve. While there may be truth to that assertion, there is much reason to feel optimistic about this rebranded North American SuperLiga. The Leagues Cup will be a smashing success and will benefit the MLS, Liga MX, and all those who support their clubs

In the four editions of the North American SuperLiga from 2007-2010, an MLS club prevailed just once. They performed even worse in the 12 editions of the Concacaf Champions League, having never had a side lift the CCL trophy. Despite this, the timing, format and growth potential of the Leagues Cup will make the tournament the hottest thing since sliced bread in North American club soccer.

One of the main issues surrounding MLS’ poor Concacaf Champions League history is the unfortunate start time. When CCL kicks off, MLS players are just waking up from their winter hibernation. Adding insult to injury is the issue of roster turnover. This season’s version of Atlanta United is a shell of its former self. Tata Martino’s United side might have fared differently in the 2019 Champions League.

The Leagues Cup kicks off this week smack dab in the middle of the MLS season and at the beginning of the Liga MX season, giving the initial fitness and chemistry advantage to MLS teams. It goes without saying that MLS fans, players, and owners all want to prove they have finally caught up to the Mexican clubs. While that remains to be seen, envisioning a soccer universe in which all of the sportsmen involved are vying for the throne should be enough to get the competitive juices flowing in us all. It just takes one MLS club to win it to begin the increased player investment and development madness from both leagues.

The structure of this competition should also be appealing to the viewer. Like a Game 7 in basketball or a World Cup final, when there is no tomorrow, the drama of athletic competition is at its very best. In the Leagues Cup format, every match-up is a win-or-go-home scenario. North American soccer fanatics are ravenous for a highly competitive continental championship. The initial concern for fans is just how serious the Mexican clubs will take this new tournament. Ultimately it will be best for both countries to have a healthy amount of national and league pride to propel a stubborn manager such as Tigres’ Tuca Ferretti to actually play Andre-Pierre Gignac in a do-or-die moment.

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Liga MX officials have also kept a close eye on the structure that MLS has in place. Last year Eric Gomez reported that the Mexican league is seeking to move toward an MLS model with 20-22 teams, while ending promotion and relegation. That proposal was widely panned as bad for business with the loudest voices coming from Ascenso MX team owners.

Liga MX president Enrique Bonilla told anyone within ear shot last year that more official competitions between MLS and Liga MX are on the way, including combining both leagues into one North American league. Liga MX can definitely learn a thing or two from the business operations side of things.

Let’s face it, sport is ultimately entertainment, and entertainment is a business. So, of course this competition is partially about the money. Increasing revenue and competition for each pro club in North America will expand our region’s soccer standing on the global stage. If and when the time comes to create a true tournament of the Americas with our South American peers, a stronger overall game on this continent can only add leverage to our case.

Leagues Cup format

The inaugural edition of the Leagues Cup will feature eight randomly selected teams. The official word is that they were selected “based on competitive results.” Next year’s expanded version of a 16-team competition will have an official qualifying process.

The four MLS clubs will need to pack a hearty lunch. Of the four Liga MX sides that will compete in the first Leagues Cup, two are recent champions (the Tigres won the Clausura 2019 and Club America won the Apertura 2018). The other two: Mexican giants Cruz Azul and Club Tijuana, a team currently generating a lot of buzz.

Representing MLS will be Chicago Fire, Houston Dynamo and Real Salt Lake (three borderline playoff teams), along with MLS Cup contender LA Galaxy. Of the four clubs, LA Galaxy would appear to pose the biggest threat to Liga MX teams. Aside from being MLS royalty, the current roster includes current Team Mexico stars Jona dos Santos and Uriel Antuna, along with potential future El Tri star Efrain Alvarez. The Galaxy also feature national teamers from a number of countries. Oh, and some guy named Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Zlatan reminded us in the recent ‘El Trafico’ derby just what he’s capable of when he’s engaged.

Until the glorious announcement of a real continental championship comes, it is our duty to support our leagues here in North America. The stronger the leagues get the better pro soccer will be in our time zone. Here’s hoping that one day we can boast about having the planet’s premier soccer leagues right in our back yard!