For years, Major League Soccer and Liga MX have tried to capitalize on various partnerships to create interest in a continental tournament.
The latest iteration is the Leagues Cup, which was announced Wednesday. This tournament, which loosely resembles the defunct North American SuperLiga, will pit four MLS teams against Mexican counterparts in an eight-team tournament beginning this July.
The four MLS teams participating are the Chicago Fire, Houston Dynamo, LA Galaxy and Real Salt Lake. Club America, Club Tijuana, Cruz Azul and Tigres will represent Liga MX. These quarterfinal matches will take place at the MLS venues July 23 and 24.
Tuesday, July 23
Chicago Fire vs. Cruz Azul, 8:30 p.m. ET
LA Galaxy vs. Club Tijuana, 11:00 p.m. ET
Wednesday, July 24
Houston Dynamo vs. Club America, 8:30 p.m. ET
Real Salt Lake vs. Tigres UANL, 10:30 p.m. ET
The entire tournament will take place on U.S. soil.
The winners of the July 23 matches will play against each other in one semifinal, while the winners of the July 24 matches will play in the other. Both semifinals will take place Aug. 20. LA and Houston have hosting priority for the semifinals, even if two Mexican teams advance. The Fire and RSL host the semifinal only if they advance and face a Mexican opponent.
The final will be held Wednesday, Sept. 18, at a U.S. venue to be announced.
The Mexican teams were selected based on “results in recent competitions,” according to the press release for the tournament. The MLS teams were “invited” to the tournament.
Going forward, the two leagues will “explore the option” to expand the tournament to include more teams. Additionally, “sporting criteria” will determine participants for both leagues after the inaugural tournament.
From 2007-10, the North American SuperLiga ran a similar eight-team format. After fixture congestion became a concern, MLS sent teams to that tournament that were not already participating in the Concacaf Champions League. That made the SuperLiga akin to the Europa League, a second-tier continental tournament.
Of the eight teams in this Leagues Cup, Houston and Tigres both participated in this year’s Concacaf Champions League. Tigres lost in the final.
Historically, Liga MX has dominated MLS teams in Champions League play. An MLS team has not won the tournament under its current format. This season, Liga MX teams won all four head-to-head meetings with MLS teams by a combined score of 22-5.
“I think through the years we’ve been continuing to play the best teams in Mexico,” RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando said. “We’re getting closer. We just haven’t been able to win that big game and this is another chance for us to step up against these big opponents down in Mexico and prove we can play with them and maybe one of these days win a championship against them.”
It’s unclear how seriously teams will take the tournament. The quarterfinals will take place just days after the opening weekend of the 2019 Apertura. MLS teams will be in the middle of the regular season, with some of these teams potentially also still participating in the U.S. Open Cup.
Houston midfielder DaMarcus Beasley played for Puebla from 2011-14, making him one of the few players taking part in the tournament to play in both leagues. Cruz Azul midfielder Yoshimar Yotún is another, having played for Orlando in MLS. LA Galaxy midfielder Jonathan dos Santos is a notable Mexican player, but never played in Liga MX.
“It’s kind of bragging rights,” Beasley said. “The Mexican league is a very good league. They have very good players from top to bottom. I played there for three years so I know a little about it. It’s a great league.”