The 15 groups for the inaugural MLS/Liga MX Leagues Cup — the new CONCACAF “World Cup-style” midseason tournament — are set, the leagues announced Friday. Here’s what you need to know:
- All 47 clubs across the leagues, 18 from Liga MX and 29 from MLS, will take part. The tournament runs from July 21 to Aug. 19.
- LAFC will go directly to the round of 32 as the 2022 MLS Cup champion, while Pachuca has a bye on the Liga MX side.
- The groups, which are based on the clubs’ locations and 2022 performances, are broken into four regions: West, Central, South and East.
What is the Leagues Cup?
The newly expanded Leagues Cup will pause both the MLS and Liga MX seasons for one month each summer. In the first year, all matches will be played throughout the U.S. and Canada.
The champion, runner-up and third-place finisher of the tournament will all qualify automatically for the CONCACAF Champions League. They will also have a chance to earn a spot in the FIFA Club World Cup.
What is the format?
Every team will play two matches in the group stage. The top two teams from each group, as determined by points, will advance to the knockout round of 32. Unlike at the World Cup, no matches in the Leagues Cup group stage will end in a tie; if a game is tied after 90 minutes, there will be a penalty shootout. Each team earns a point when tied after 90 minutes, and the winner of the penalty kicks gets an additional point. Winning teams in regulation earn three points.
More details on the format can be found here.
How were the groups selected?
Each region has four groups, except the West, which has three groups due to LAFC’s entrance bye to the knockout stage. Pachuca will enter the knockout stage in the South, opposite side of the bracket from the MLS Cup champion and opposite quadrant from the top MLS-seeded club based on the final 2022 Supporters’ Shield standings. LAFC won the 2022 Supporters’ Shield, so the club in the opposite quadrant will be the team that finished second — the Philadelphia Union, which will be in Group 1 in the East Region (East 1), per the leagues’ announcement.
The top 15 MLS clubs — other than LAFC — were first placed in their corresponding region and then based on their position in the final 2022 Supporters’ Shield standings. The top 15 Liga MX teams, based on the combined Clausura 2022 and Apertura 2022 standings — except for Pachuca — were paired in reverse order with the top 15 MLS clubs (i.e., No. 15 Liga MX club with No. 1 MLS club, etc.).
The remaining 13 MLS clubs were then placed in the groups based first on their region and then on their position in the Supporters’ Shield standings.
After the MLS clubs were placed into groups, the South and East regions each had one remaining slot. Based on the combined Clausura 2022 and Apertura 2022 standings, the last two remaining Liga MX clubs — FC Juarez and Querétaro — were placed in the open positions.
2023 Leagues Cup groups
- East 1: Philadelphia Union (No. 1 MLS), Club Tijuana (No. 15 Liga MX), Querétaro (No. 17 Liga MX)
- East 2: CF Montréal (No. 2 MLS), Pumas (No. 14 Liga MX), D.C. United (No. 27 MLS)
- East 3: New York City FC (No. 4 MLS), Atlas (No. 12 Liga MX), Toronto FC (No. 26 MLS)
- East 4: New York Red Bulls (No. 5 MLS), Atlético de San Luis (No. 11 Liga MX), New England Revolution (No. 19 MLS)
How to watch the Leagues Cup
All Leagues Cup matches will be available on MLS Season Pass on the Apple TV app. Apple’s 10-year, $2.5 billion media deal with MLS begins this year. Web viewing of the tournament will be available via tv.apple.com.
TelevisaUnivision, Fox Sports, TSN and RDS will also be the linear broadcast home for select Leagues Cup matches, and the Leagues Cup final will be available on Univision.
What do we make of the groups?
The group stage has some interesting interleague matchups, like Mexican power CF Monterrey and reigning CONCACAF Champions League winners Seattle Sounders facing off against each other in the West region 2. Real Salt Lake rounds out that group, which to me, could be the most competitive of the first round.
But MLS wants fireworks, intrigue and drama to be a part of this tournament. They’ll get that in the South Region when Atlanta United legend Josef Martinez, now with Inter Miami, meets his old club. — Cardenas
The Martínez angle is juicy, but it’s worth keeping in mind that he will have already welcomed Atlanta to his new home on South Beach in May. Central 1 will give new Columbus Crew boss Wilfried Nancy a major test against vaunted Club América while warding off MLS newcomers St. Louis City SC.
Tigres will undoubtedly like their chances in West 1 against a pair of Western Conference clubs in transition (Portland and San Jose), while just two MLS sides were drawn into groups without an interleague foe: the Philadelphia Union and Austin FC. As the two final teams to fall in LAFC’s run to MLS Cup, they should both be up for the challenge. — Reuter
What are the most anticipated matches?
Without a doubt, Inter Miami versus Atlanta United will be a first-round headliner that will capture the attention of North America.
Chivas de Guadalajara against FC Cincinnati has a chance to be a wide-open affair, with Cincy’s Mexican-American striker Brandon Vazquez lining up against the club that targeted him in December.
I’m looking forward to Club Leon and their manager Nicolás Larcamón, who’s among the most respected coaches in Mexico, taking on the LA Galaxy and Chicharito Hernández. — Cardenas
América has struggled to a pair of draws to start the Clausura, but their date with Columbus is intriguing far beyond which side will get to wear their primary yellow kits. Héctor Herrera raised eyebrows across the globe when he left Atlético de Madrid for the lowly Houston Dynamo, and there’s no doubt he’ll enter a matchup against Santos Laguna with a point to prove.
Beyond that, it’s tough to guess which teams will enter in a rich vein of form. Twelve months ago, few would have predicted that Austin and FC Cincinnati would have been among MLS’s best and most watchable sides in 2022. Perhaps the team with the most to prove in either league — the Seattle Sounders, after missing the playoffs for the first time in club history and losing singular roster architect Garth Lagerwey to Atlanta — will see a group stage date with CF Monterrey as a chance to reassert itself among the class of North America. Such is life as the reigning CONCACAF Champions League winner. — Reuter
Why you should care about Leagues Cup
The last time MLS held a summertime soccer tournament was the forgettable MLS is Back showcase in 2020. No one wants to relive that. What fans do want is a competitive international tournament with real stakes at play.
Regional bragging rights will motivate both MLS and Liga MX sides to take the Leagues Cup seriously. Is the gap truly closing between both leagues? We’ll soon find out. And on the broadcast side, Leagues Cup will challenge the new MLS + Apple media rights partnership. Matches will be broadcast in English and Spanish on Apple, with select fixtures on Univision, FOX Sports, TSN and RDS. — Cardenas
Ultimately, we’ll all care about the Leagues Cup if and once it’s clear that the players and coaches involved do. If it appears to be treated as a summer friendly circuit to stretch out the legs between chunks of the league campaign, retaining interest could be a struggle. On the surface, however, it’s a fresh format with the promise of intriguing competition throughout each matchup. It’s hard to argue that this isn’t an experiment worth trying. — Reuter
(Photo: Kirby Lee / USA Today)
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