MLS announced Tuesday the return of the Leagues Cup and Campeones Cup, the new competitions conducted in partnership with Liga MX that were suspended in 2020 because of the pandemic.
The single-elimination Leagues Cup will take place in August and September and will feature eight clubs—four from MLS and four from Liga MX. While the teams in the inaugural 2019 edition were mostly random invitees, this time MLS has imposed competitive qualification criteria: the top two teams in each conference’s regular season standings that aren’t competing in this year’s Concacaf Champions League will play in the Leagues Cup. Think of the Leagues Cup as analogous to the UEFA Europa League or the Copa Sudamericana.
The four MLS qualifiers are Orlando City and New York City FC from the Eastern Conference and Sporting Kansas City and Seattle Sounders from the Western Conference. They’ll host the quarterfinal games during the week of Aug. 9-13. Their four Mexican opponents will be determined in May at the conclusion of the 2021 Clausura season, MLS said.
The semifinals will be contested during the week of Sept. 13-17 and the final, to be played at a neutral site in the U.S., will take place the week of Sept. 20-24.
Cruz Azul won the 2019 Leagues Cup, defeating Tigres UANL in the final. The LA Galaxy was the only MLS club to win its quarterfinal. Beginning in 2023, the Leagues Cup will furnish a qualifier to the expanded CCL.
During the week of Sept. 27-Oct. 1, the Columbus Crew will host the third edition of the Campeones Cup at the club’s new downtown stadium. The MLS Cup champions will face the winner of Liga MX’s Campeón de Campeones playoff between Apertura champ Club León and the Clausura winner.
MLS and Liga MX split the previous two editions of the Campeones Cup. Tigres defeated Toronto FC in 2018 and Atlanta United beat Club América the following year, becoming just the fourth MLS club to win a senior international trophy.
“We’re excited to restart the Leagues Cup and Campeones Cup competitions in 2021 and continue to build on our partnership with Liga MX,” MLS Commissioner Don Garber said. “We have seen the great rivalry that exists on the field between MLS and Liga MX clubs, and these events provide a unique opportunity for fans to see their club compete in meaningful international competition while creating enormous interest and attention for both leagues.”
MLS is expected to unveil its regular season schedule before the end of the month. It hasn’t yet announced the 2021 MLS Cup playoff format or which eight teams will compete in this season’s abbreviated U.S. Open Cup.