And meanwhile, in the ‘new’ Copa MX …

America players hoist the Clausura 2019 Copa MX trophy after defeating FC Juárez on April 10. (Photo by Alvaro Avila/Jam Media/Getty Images)
America players hoist the Clausura 2019 Copa MX trophy after defeating FC Juárez on April 10. (Photo by Alvaro Avila/Jam Media/Getty Images) /

With 14 group stage games remaining, the Copa MX is discreetly functioning within the confines of its new format.

The revamped Copa MX has been flying well under the radar throughout the Apertura 2019. As is typical, there are quite a few surprises. But fan interest – and media interest – is still lagging.

A few Liga MX teams that have struggled in league play have already secured a spot in the knockout round. That includes Toluca and Morelia, both of whom finished their group stage schedule with perfect 4-0-0 records. As for Ascenso MX teams, only one – the Dorados of Sinaloa – is in solid possession to advance.

Copa MX, new format
Heriberto Olvera of Zacatecas (left) battles Querétaro winger Jordi Cortizo for possession during their Oct. 2 Copa MX match. The Gallos Blancos won 2-1 at home, in front of mostly empty seats. (Photo by Cesar Gomez/Jam Media/Getty Images) /

But this information continues to be relegated to the back pages of the sports section as the historic tournament – it was first played in 1907 – struggles to recover relevance.

This season, the Mexico Soccer Federation decided to bow to pressure from Liga MX teams complaining about too much soccer and switched the Copa MX to an annual schedule. Instead of playing a condensed Copa MX each season, the schedule has been stretched out over the typical soccer year (from July through May).

The last time the Copa MX was played over an entire soccer year was the 1996-97 season (it was won by Cruz Azul, the same year the Cementeros won their last Liga MX crown). The Copa was suspended thereafter – presumably due to lack of interest – and only resumed 15 years later.

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Beginning with the Apertura 2012 season, the Copa MX was staged each short season. Unfortunately, the tournament lacks prestige as most Liga MX teams prefer to use back-ups and academy players. To be fair, Copa rules require Liga MX teams to use at least two academy players each game in an effort to help develop young players.

Federation officials dream of making the Copa MX a highly valued tournament, in the manner of the Copa del Rey and the FA Cup. But until teams and coaches take this tournament more seriously, it will remain far down the list of priorities.

Putting lipstick on the Copa MX pig?

A case can be made that the decision to stretch out the Copa MX schedule will benefit the tournament. Coaches won’t have the excuse that their players are overtaxed. The 15 participating Liga MX teams are only required to play four Copa matches during the current Apertura season.

Copa MX, new format
Toluca players celebrate after a Kevin Castañeda goal gave the Diablos a 1-0 lead over Veracruz on Oct. 2. Toluca won the Copa MX match 2-0 and has clinched first place in their group. (Photo by Angel Castillo/Jam Media/Getty Images) /

There is more time between group stage games. Instead of playing four Cup games between August and September (like last year), the 2019-2020 group stage started on July 30 and concludes on Nov. 6. In comparison, a year ago, Cruz Azul hoisted the Apertura 2018 Cup on Oct. 31, having played eight Copa matches from Aug. 31 until defeating Monterrey on the final day of October.

This time around, the knockout stage – played during the Clausura 20202 season – will be a home-and-home affair instead of the single-game winner-take-all format it has been since 2012. This allows both teams to host a knockout game and could heighten fan interest in the tournament.

And once again, the games will be spread out such that a team that advances to the final will have played only eight Cup matches between mid-January and April 15th (the date set for the second leg of the Final). Last year, the final was played on April 10 when América defeated FC Juárez in a one-off match in the border town.

So far this season, Morelia, Toluca, UNAM and FC Juárez have already clinched spots in the Round of 16. The next round of group stage matches is set to take place on Oct. 22 and Oct. 23, with the final set of group stage games scheduled for Nov. 5 and Nov. 6.