Nashville SC’s statement win against NYCFC over the weekend vaulted Nashville into third place in the Eastern Conference, level on points with second place Orlando. While most supporters excitedly imagine a home MLS Cup playoff match (or two) in front of a packed lower bowl at Nissan Stadium, I also crave something a little spicier.
My imagination conjures up the chaos that is Concacaf. I crave a cup tie with Chivas. My soccer-loving heart aches for a date with Club América. Give me all the mouthwatering matches against Monterrey and tantalizing tilts featuring Toluca or Tigres.
A home MLS Cup playoff game at Nissan Stadium will be absolutely electric. But the prospect of hosting a League’s Cup match in the brand-new Fairgrounds stadium against one of the best clubs from Mexico has me salivating.
If the current standings hold, Nashville SC would qualify for Leagues Cup, an annual competition between top clubs from MLS and Liga MX.
Started in 2019, Leagues Cup was created to generate additional matches and strengthen ties between the two dominant leagues of North America. MLS sends to Leagues Cup its top four clubs that fail to qualify for Concacaf Champions League (“CCL”), the region’s premier club tournament.
It is no secret that the MLS league office sees exponential growth potential in the legion of Mexican-American soccer fans that support Liga MX clubs but have yet to adopt their local MLS teams. It is the untapped market that can drive MLS growth for the next generation. For this reason, MLS is making a concerted top-down effort to promote Leagues Cup, even if it still needs to convince some of its own clubs to field A-level teams.
For Nashville SC, there should be no convincing necessary for the club to be anything less than ecstatic at the prospect of hosting one of the top clubs from Mexico. For such a young club, the opportunity to play in front of an army of fans of a Liga MX heavyweight in a sparkling new stadium cannot be underestimated in establishing the legitimacy of Nashville SC in the eyes of the region’s Spanish-speaking population that is already familiar with the behemoths of Mexican soccer.
But as important as a Leagues Cup matchup may be from a financial and prestige perspective, the real excitement is the opportunity to see a cagey Concacaf cup tie in person from just a few feet away.
For those new to the American soccer scene, Concacaf soccer is an entirely different animal. Whether it is World Cup qualifiers or Nations League on the international side or the club scene’s chaotic clashes in CCL and the first iterations of Leagues Cup, Concacaf soccer is downright spicy. Supercharged split-allegiance crowds, studs-up tackles that occasionally go unpunished, and inevitable shoving matches are all regular features of high-level Concacaf brawls. At times, it resembles more of a WWE event than a soccer match, but it is impossible not to love it.
So, cheer on the Boys in Gold the rest of the season as they seek to host a home playoff game. But know that a Top 3 finish in the East also will bring the chaos that is Concacaf, and what a joy it will be.