When the very idea of the Leagues Cup was announced, I admit that I was skeptical.
More than skeptical.
In more than one way.
Who needs another Cup competition in addition to the U.S. Open Cup and Concacaf Champions League? Why in the world put the entire Major League Soccer season on hiatus for a month for a Cup that, until that point, many people didn’t understand? One that didn’t exist until this season? In the midst of watching Nashville SC try to climb back into second place in the conference, it seemed painful to have to stop playing “real” matches in order to attend midweek games with small crowds.
I was wrong. So so wrong.
This experience has paid off in ways that I never could have expected.
1. Liga MX and MLS cross exposure
One of the purposes of this competition was to expose Liga MX to previously un-open markets in the US, as well as to allow some Liga MX fans to see their clubs live. It also was pitched as a way to expose MLS clubs to viewers in Mexico.
I can’t speak for everyone, but here in Nashville, the competition has certainly fulfilled this purpose and in ways I might not have expected. It was a blast for me (and others) to learn more about teams like Toluca, Club América and Monterrey up close and to watch other clubs in the competition on Apple.
Not only did we get the thrill of watching players we hadn’t seen before, but we also got to get a sense (perhaps an unfair sense) of how we measured up against such clubs.
As a bonus, the tournament had enough contingencies—Liga MX on the road for a month, early in the season—for all fan bases to argue that the results don’t mean what the winners say they mean. That’s a great situation for sports fans. It’s great for the leagues. The debate and discourse will carry on long after the tournament is over.
While I know there was a lot of deserved criticism of the Club América fans who invaded the pitch and/or trashed the pitch throwing beer cups from the stands, we also got to experience a very different—louder and more vibrant—expression of fan culture prior to the game, during the game and after the game from the LigaMX fan bases.
For my money, at least two of the most exciting atmospheres I’ve experience at Geodis over the last two seasons have come against Club América and Monterrey. I hope we learn to bring even more to our home games as a result.
3. Home exposure
Nations League cup final at home. Against the Lionel Messi led Inter Miami team that the nation seems intent on watching.
Seriously? Could Nashvillians ask for anything more in terms of putting our team, our stadium, our fan base, and our city on display? I couldn’t dream this up.
At the beginning of the tournament, someone asked me if there was any way we could meet Miami along the way. I looked and gave a rough calculation of, “Oh, there’s about a 1% chance of that happening,” thinking that the actual odds were so small that it wasn’t worth considering. Now, the eyes of soccer fandom around the world are on us.
4. Increased demand
While I realize that there are a few season tickets who were angry at not getting affordable tickets to the final after opting out and are now threatening to cancel their season tickets in the future, I actually think this run in the Cup will increase demand for tickets in the future.
Not only did a lot of Season ticket holders learn the value of “opting in,” but the general excited of following a club through multiple thrilling matches on the way to the final has, if anything, added to fans who want to experience the full season.
Without even touching on the arguments being bandied around concerning tickets to the final, I think we can bank on more than another people standing in line to replace those who actually do opt out of tickets in the future.
5. Improved form heading down the stretch
On a more practical level, I’m absolutely thrilled that Nashville gets time to work Sam Surridge into the line up prior to moving back in the League play. Watching him master the pitch and hook up with Hany has been a real gift. And it’s only going to get better as we make our drive toward the playoffs.
It’s hard to remember a month ago when Nashville were in one of the worst stretches in club history. They’d lost five of six matches heading into Leagues Cup, including those losses to Cincinnati and Philadelphia with two red cards in each.
It was hard to find anything positive about Nashville’s form heading into the tournament. It’s hard to think of many concerns for them once MLS resumes. It’s amazing what a cup run can do for a team.
There are clearly reasons to not like this tournament if your fandom lies with some other teams.
If your club got knocked out in the group stage, or in the round of 32, you’ve been sitting on your ass as a fan waiting for the season to start back up.
If you didn’t get a ticket to the final and are experience massive FOMO, I suppose you may find a way to wallow in it (rather than planning the greatest watch party ever).
But let’s face it. The Leagues Cup has been a thrilling and very successful ride for Nashville SC and its fan base. We have a chance to pick up our first piece of silverware. We’re bound for next years Concacaf Champions League. And, for a moment, we are the center of attention.
I couldn’t have written a better script.
I love this game.