Four Major League Soccer teams embark on a brand-new competition this week against a quartet of teams from Liga MX.
The Chicago Fire open the Leagues Cup on Tuesday night against Cruz Azul and the LA Galaxy take on Club Tijuana later in the evening. Houston and Real Salt Lake hit the field Wednesday to battle against Club America and Tigres, respectively.
When the initial eight-team format was announced, the competition was only for the 2019 season. Since then, the tournament has expanded with specific qualification processes for the 2020 edition.
The 2019 Leagues Cup has a single-elimination format with the final to be played in Las Vegas on September 18. Below is everything you need to know.
Tuesday, July 23
Cruz Azul at Chicago Fire (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN+, SeatGeek Stadium)
Club Tijuana at LA Galaxy (11 p.m. ET, ESPN, Dignity Health Sports Park)
Wednesday, July 24
Club America at Houston Dynamo (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN+, BBVA Compass Stadium)
Tigres UANL at Real Salt Lake (10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN+, Rio Tinto Stadium)
Tuesday, August 20
Semifinal No. 1 (TBD)
Semifinal No. 2 (TBD)
Wednesday, September 18
Final at Sam Boyd Stadium, Las Vegas (Time TBD)
The 2019 format is straightforward with the winners of each quarterfinal advancing to the semifinal round, and then the two semifinal victors head to Las Vegas for the September 18 final.
The 2020 edition of the competition will have more qualification regulations, which were announced last week by MLS and Liga MX.
MLS will send the top four teams from the Eastern and Western Conferences that do not qualify for the Concacaf Champions League to next year’s tournament. Liga MX’s entrants will be the 2019 Apertura champion, 2020 Clausura winner, the 2019-20 Copa MX champion and the top five teams combined from the 2019 Apertura and 2020 Clausura standings that have not already secured a spot in the Leagues Cup.
The announcement for 2020 gives fans a chance to track which teams will land in next year’s competition as they become familiar with the concept.
The Leagues Cup allows more MLS teams to play on an international stage. Of the four Leagues Cup participants, only the Houston Dynamo competed in the 2019 Concacaf Champions League.
The games against Mexican opponents could serve as a measuring stick for MLS teams and show them what they have to improve to reach the next level, similar to what is seen in the CCL.
And then there’s the obvious advantage of winning a trophy in a year all four MLS participants were eliminated from the U.S. Open Cup and, in Houston’s case, the CCL.
Of the four, the Galaxy are the only team in the hunt for the MLS Supporters’ Shield.
The tournament comes at an inopportune time for the four MLS squads involved.
Houston is coming off a week in which it traveled to Atlanta and Toronto, plus has a big home game coming up Saturday against Seattle.
The Galaxy’s clash with Club Tijuana is squeezed in between crucial Western Conference games against Los Angeles FC and Portland.
Chicago is in the same boat as the Dynamo, coming off a double match week, but the Fire did not have to travel as much since they played home on Wednesday.
Real Salt Lake is in the best shape of the four participants because it is coming off back-to-back home games.
The Leagues Cup also comes in the middle of a congested season that has featured a bevy of double match weeks due to the playoffs being moved up.
Know Your Opponent
Former Orlando City midfielder Yoshimar Yotun and Mexican national team forward Orbelin Pineda headline the group of players headed to Chicago for Tuesday’s game.
Cruz Azul finished first in the 2018 Apertura, but lost to Club America in the Apertura playoff final and finished fourth in the 2019 Clausura.
Forward Milton Caraglio is one of multiple players coming off terrific seasons that the Fire will have to stop in order to move on to the semifinals.
Xolos have plenty of familiar faces, with former FC Dallas manager Oscar Pareja leading the squad and forwards Erick “Cubo” Torres and Camilo Sanvezzo on the roster with MLS experience.
Torres will be returning to where he played during his time with Chivas USA, while Camilo won the 2013 MLS Golden Boot with the Vancouver Whitecaps.
Club Tijuana had the eighth-best record in the 2019 Clausura and went out in the first round of the playoffs to Club Leon.
Club America won the 2018 Apertura final and advanced to the semifinals of the 2019 Clausura playoffs last season.
Former LA Galaxy midfielder Giovani dos Santos could make his debut for the club at BBVA Compass Stadium against the Dynamo.
Defender Paul Aguilar, French midfielder Jeremy Menez and Colombian midfielder Nicolas Benedetti are among the notable names on Club America’s roster.
Tigres won the 2019 Clausura championship and totaled 181 points in both competitions in Mexico last season.
André-Pierre Gignac, Eduardo Vargas and Enner Valencia lead a forward line that would give any top defense trouble.
Tigres should be viewed as the favorite to win the tournament until proven otherwise, which means RSL has a massive fight on its hands on home soil on Wednesday.