Leagues Cup FAQ: What is it and why should you care?

This Friday, July 21, Major League Soccer and Liga MX will kick off the inaugural edition of the Leagues Cup. Both leagues will take a month-long break from their domestic campaigns for the first edition of the new annual tournament, the latest attempt to bring the two leagues closer together.

So what exactly is the Leagues Cup? How will it work? Why should you care? Let’s dive in.

What’s the format?

The Leagues Cup is a World Cup-style knockout tournament. 47 teams in total (all 29 MLS clubs and all 18 Liga MX clubs) have divided into regions (East, West, South and Central) and organized into groups of three. Like in the World Cup, the groups are a round robin, with every team playing each other and the top two sides advancing to the Round of 32.

Unlike the World Cup, there are no draws in the group stage. A win in regulation is worth three points and a loss is worth zero, but in case of a draw, both teams are awarded a one point and the match will go directly to a penalty kick shootout, where the winner will earn an additional point. This format has been used in MLS NEXT Pro this season.

The top two sides from each group will advance to the Round of 32. The MLS Cup winner from the prior year gets an automatic bye to the Round of 32. The Clausura or Apertura champion from the year before who has accumulated the most points in the entirity of 2022 also advances to the Round of 32. This year, LAFC (2022 MLS Cup winners) and Pachuca (2022 Apertura winners) have automatically qualified.

Once in the knockout stages, it’s a typical single elimination tournament. Win an advance, lose and go home. Matches tied after 90 minutes will forgo the typical 30 minutes of extra time and head straight to penalty kicks.

All matches will be played in the United States and Canada, with MLS clubs set to host.

What are the groups?

West

West 1 (W1)
  • Portland Timbers ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ
  • Tigres ๐Ÿ‡ฒ๐Ÿ‡ฝ
  • San Jose Earthquakes ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ
West 2 (W2)
  • Real Salt Lake ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ
  • Monterrey ๐Ÿ‡ฒ๐Ÿ‡ฝ
  • Seattle Sounders ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ
West 3 (W3)
  • LA Galaxy ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ
  • Lรฉon ๐Ÿ‡ฒ๐Ÿ‡ฝ
  • Vancouver Whitecaps ๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ฆ

Central

Central 1 (C1)
  • Columbus Crew ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ
  • Club Amรฉrica ๐Ÿ‡ฒ๐Ÿ‡ฝ
  • St. Louis CITY ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ
Central 2 (C2)
  • Minnesota United ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ
  • Puebla ๐Ÿ‡ฒ๐Ÿ‡ฝ
  • Chicago Fire ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ
Central 3 (C3)
  • FC Cincinnati ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ
  • Chivas Guadalajara ๐Ÿ‡ฒ๐Ÿ‡ฝ
  • Sporting Kansas City ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ
Central 4 (C4)
  • Nashville SC ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ
  • Toluca ๐Ÿ‡ฒ๐Ÿ‡ฝ
  • Colorado Rapids ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ

South

South 1 (S1)
  • Austin FC ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ
  • Mazatlรกn ๐Ÿ‡ฒ๐Ÿ‡ฝ
  • Juรกrez ๐Ÿ‡ฒ๐Ÿ‡ฝ
South 2 (S2)
  • Orlando City ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ
  • Santos Laguna ๐Ÿ‡ฒ๐Ÿ‡ฝ
  • Houston Dynamo ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ
South 3 (S3)
  • Inter Miami ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ
  • Cruz Azul ๐Ÿ‡ฒ๐Ÿ‡ฝ
  • Atlanta United ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ
South 4 (S4)
  • FC Dallas ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ
  • Necaxa ๐Ÿ‡ฒ๐Ÿ‡ฝ
  • Charlotte FC ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ

East

East 1 (E1)
  • Philadelphia Union ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ
  • Tijuana ๐Ÿ‡ฒ๐Ÿ‡ฝ
  • Querรฉtaro ๐Ÿ‡ฒ๐Ÿ‡ฝ
East 2 (E2)
  • CF Montrรฉal ๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ฆ
  • Pumas ๐Ÿ‡ฒ๐Ÿ‡ฝ
  • DC United ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ
East 3 (E3)
  • New York City FC ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ
  • Atlas ๐Ÿ‡ฒ๐Ÿ‡ฝ
  • Toronto FC ๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ฆ
East 4 (E4)
  • New York Red Bulls ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ
  • Atlรฉtico San Luis ๐Ÿ‡ฒ๐Ÿ‡ฝ
  • New England Revolution ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ

Bracket

Who will play?

Teams have to select rosters of between 26 and 30 players to compete, and announced those yesterday. The transfer window is open until August 2 (midway through the tournament), and incoming signings can be added to the roster.

Nashville SC have announced their roster, featuring four Huntsville City FC players and leaving room for two extra players. Inter Miami also announced their roster, including newly signed Lionel Messi and Sergio Busquets, as well as yet-to-be-announced fullback Jordi Alba.

How can you watch?

The entire tournament will be available on MLS Season Pass on Apple TV. Many of the matches will be available for free, and others will be simultaneously broadcast on Univision in Spanish.

What’s at stake?

MLS and Liga MX have tried to make this more than just a bragging rights competition. Unlike last summer’s showcases, there are actual stakes on the line.

The two sides to reach the final and the winner of the third-place match will all receive automatic qualification to next year’s Concacaf Champions Leauge. The Leagues Cup winner will earn a bye to the Concacaf Champions League Round of 16.

Additionally, there is prize money available. According to a report from Sports Business Journal‘s Alex Silverman, Leagues Cup has a total prize pot of close to $40 million, with the winner earning $2m. This is significantly more than the $300,000 given to the winner of the U.S. Open Cup.

Why should you care?

For starters, if you’re a fan of an MLS or Liga MX team, this is the only way to watch them for a month. Both leagues are on pause during the tournament, and teams will be solely focused on Leagues Cup.

It’s also another way to compare the two leagues. Liga MX has traditionally been dominant over MLS, having more talent evenly spread throughout their rosters and allowing owners to spend money more freely. MLS has gained ground, with Seattle Sounders defeating Pumas in the 2022 Concacaf Champions League final, and MLS sides making four of the last six finals.

Playing on home soil will give MLS clubs an advantage. Depending on how seriously they take the competition, they could be quite successful.

It remains to be seen how managers will approach their squad selection. On one hand, their focus will be on the MLS regular season and keeping their star players healthy. On the other, it’s difficult (even impossible) to take a full month off from competitive games and resume MLS in top form. Different clubs will have different approaches, but expect mostly competitive squads mixed in with some rotation and careful load management.

It’s a novel concept in the global game, and while the inaugural edition may have some hiccups, there’s a lot to be excited about over the next month.

Author: Ben Wrightis the Director of Soccer Content and a Senior MLS Contributor for Broadway Sports covering Nashville SC and the US National Team. Previously Ben was the editor and a founder of Speedway Soccer, where he has covered Nashville SC and their time in USL before journeying to Major League Soccer since 2018. Raised in Louisville, KY Ben grew up playing before a knee injury ended his competitive career. When he is not talking soccer he is probably producing music, drinking coffee or hanging out with his wife and kids. Mastodon

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