MLS and Liga MX are pressing pause on their Leagues Cup joint venture as they gear up for a 2023 tournament that’ll include all 47 clubs across both North American circuits. As a result, there will be no Leagues Cup this year, MLS confirmed to Sports Illustrated on Thursday.
It’s a decision that makes sense on two levels. First, the global soccer calendar is already compressed by the November-December World Cup, which forced MLS to start its 27th season in February and end it with the earliest title game in 20 years.
Second, the first two Leagues Cup tournaments, staged in 2020 and 2021, were eight-team exhibition affairs that didn’t exactly compare in scope, quality or competitive validity to the mammoth event to come. There was little sense in risking further dilution of the nascent tournament’s brand or importance.
Instead, MLS will stage a “Leagues Cup Showcase” event on Aug. 3 at SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles, where the LA Galaxy will play Chivas de Guadalajara and Los Angeles FC will face Club América in a friendly doubleheader. The Campeones Cup, the annual matchup between the MLS Cup holder and one of the two Liga MX champs crowned each season, will still happen in 2022. New York City FC will host that one-off match, likely in September.
MLS said the Showcase doubleheader “will serve as a preview” for the 2023 Leagues Cup, a massive late summer undertaking that will require an unprecedented month-long break in the MLS regular-season schedule. Every MLS and Liga MX club will be involved in the Leagues Cup from next year forward, and the top three finishers will earn a spot in the subsequent spring’s Concacaf Champions League.
The inclusive and official nature of future Leagues Cup tournaments stands in contrast to the previous two editions. The 2020 tournament, won by Cruz Azul, was an invitational. Last year’s, won by Club León, involved complex and arbitrary qualification criteria.
MLS is looking into how to draw some kind of distinction between the titles and records from 2020-21 and those produced by the full tournament starting next year. It also hasn’t finished working out the precise format for the 2023 Leagues Cup, which is supposed to have a group stage followed by knockouts. Next year’s launch of St. Louis City’s first team will bring the number of Leagues Cup entrants to 47, a number that doesn’t divide evenly. There’s also some uncertainty about how MLS will handle clubs that are eliminated early and then face a multi-week gap in their schedule.
By skipping 2022, they’ve given themselves an opportunity to focus on those issues ahead of the Leagues Cup’s full, competitive debut next year.
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