Major League Soccer and Liga MX made a significant announcement on Tuesday, confirming that all 47 clubs from both leagues will compete in a completely overhauled Leagues Cup. The newly formatted competition will be held annually and will feature a month-long break from both leagues, during which MLS and Liga MX clubs will compete in a World Cup-style competition.
Additionally, the new Leagues Cup will be an official Concacaf Champions League competition, with the winner of Leagues Cup earning automatic qualification for the CCL Round of 16. The second and third placed Leagues Cup finishers will also automatically qualify for the Concacaf Champions League opening round.
The announcement is the latest step in MLS and Liga MX’s growing partnership. The two leagues faced off in the 2021 All Star game in Los Angeles, as well as playing in the annual Campeones Cup, a match featuring the champions of each respective league.
The Leagues Cup news comes alongside a revised format for CCL. The current version features 16 teams, but beginning in 2024, it will expand to include 27 clubs, 18 of which will come from North America, and can qualify as follows:
- Liga MX – six clubs
- Major League Soccer – five clubs
- Leagues Cup – three clubs
- Canadian Premier League – three clubs
- US Open Cup – one club
- Canadian Championship – one club
The expanded format of the Leagues Cup raises plenty of questions for Major League Soccer. The current format has shown wildly varying levels of commitment from MLS sides. Sporting Kansas City fielded a squad of seven homegrown players in their quarterfinal match and were thrashed 6-1 by Club Leon. Fortunately for SKC, they didn’t seem to care going into the match.
Meanwhile, Seattle Sounders have taken the competition incredibly seriously, knocking off both Tigres and Santos Laguna on their way to an appearance in the final tomorrow evening.
MLS has struggled against Liga MX sides in competitive play. They’ve never won CCL, and have been held back by their lack of spending compared to their Mexican counterparts. Liga MX sides can field entire lineups of Designated Player-caliber starters, and the middle- to bottom-end of their rosters significantly outpace those in MLS. It’s led to a largely one-sided competition.
If MLS really wants to succeed in Leagues Cup and truly compete with Liga MX, they’ll need to re-think some things, both in terms of simple spending limits as well as the structure of their rosters. With MLS clubs potentially competing in four tournaments (MLS, Leagues Cup, Concacaf Champions League and US Open Cup), quality depth will be crucial, and the majority of teams sorely lack it. With the amount of emphasis the league is placing on this tournament (shifting their entire calendar isn’t a small commitment), it would be naive to think a shift in roster building isn’t also required.
At the end of the day, this tournament will pit more top teams in the region against each other on a more regular basis. Last summer’s MLS Is Back tournament showed how entertaining a World Cup-style competition in a club setting can be, although under very different circumstances. While the new Leagues Cup is an experiment, it’s an experiment that will hopefully propel MLS to its next phase, as well as a potentially important step in increasing its footprint ahead of the 2026 World Cup.