Los Angeles (USA) (EFE).- A new football (and business) bridge between the US and Mexico. That is what the Leagues Cup represents, an official tournament that debuts this year, which will be played by the 47 teams of the MLS and Liga MX for a month and that strengthens cross-border ties before the 2026 World Cup that will be organized by the US, Mexico and Canada.
From July 21 to August 19, MLS and Liga MX will come to a complete halt for all their teams to play in a new annual tournament with group stages and playoffs, sponsored by Concacaf.
With a total of 77 matches to be played in the US and Canada, the Leagues Cup aspires to mark a before and after in North American soccer and in the increasingly close relationship between these two leagues.
“This unprecedented international competition is part of the evolution of the successful partnership between MLS and Liga MX that was launched in 2018,” MLS sports director Alfonso Mondelo told EFE.
“The two leagues maintain a good relationship and have formed a strategic association to focus on sharing best practices, prioritizing social responsibility efforts, and competing by fueling the existing sports rivalry between the countries,” he explained.
In recent years there have been other examples of occasional collaboration such as the MLS All-Star, in which the best of this league were measured against the most outstanding of Liga MX; or the Campeones Cup, a kind of Super Cup between the winners of both championships.
But this Leagues Cup, reimagined from a small friendly tournament between a few teams, is a much more ambitious, powerful and groundbreaking project.
Mondelo stressed that it is “the first official tournament in the world to involve two leagues and to be endorsed by its confederation.”
In total, the 18 teams from Liga MX and 29 from MLS (26 from the US and three from Canada) will participate.
“It will be something innovative that two leagues face each other directly with all their clubs in a direct competition to crown a champion,” added the MLS executive.
The potential market is enormous: the population between the US, Mexico and Canada is almost 500 million people (for comparison, there are about 450 million living in the European Union).
In addition, the growth of the MLS in recent years is unquestionable and that is also reflected in the support of sponsors and corporations, especially with a great agreement with Apple so that the apple giant offers streaming all the matches of the league and globally for 10 years from 2023.
The Leagues Cup is also part of the alliance between Apple and MLS.
According to the specialized portal Sport Business Journal, Apple will disburse at least 250 million dollars a year as part of its agreement with the MLS.
On the other hand, Mondelo stressed that “the two leagues and the clubs individually” are dedicated to generating attention and expectations before the launch of the Leagues Cup.
One of the incentives will be, for example, seeing Mexican stars like Carlos Vela (Los Angeles FC) and Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernández (LA Galaxy) facing off against Liga MX clubs in an official tournament.
The Leagues Cup, whose format and date are reminiscent – saving the distances – of the World Cups, also comes just three years before the US, Mexico and Canada host the 2026 World Cup.
In this sense, Mondelo stressed the “opportunity” posed by the Leagues Cup to advance in the preparation of the 2026 event – the first World Cup with three host countries – with a tournament that, by venues and number of matches, will be “similar in terms of as far as logistics is concerned.
The keys of the tournament
In the Leagues Cup, two teams will go directly to the round of 32: the winner of the MLS Cup (Los Angeles FC) and, in Liga MX, the team of the two most recent Apertura and Clausura champions that scored the most points in 2022 (Pachuca).
The rest of the 45 sets will be distributed into 15 groups of three.
Each group will have at least one team from Liga MX and the distribution will take into account the classification of each team in their league.
The best two from each group will advance to the round of 32.
One of the most curious and interesting aspects of the Leagues Cup is that there will be no draws during the group stage.
If a match ends in a draw, both teams will take a point but there will also be a penalty shootout with the winner getting an extra point.
Likewise, the first three of the Leagues Club (champion, runner-up and winner of the match for third place) will qualify for the Concacaf Champions League.