One of the biggest soccer news stories coming out of North America involves expanding the Leagues Cup. So, what is the Leagues Cup and how is it changing from a small-scale tournament into one of the largest competitions between clubs in the world?
What is the Leagues Cup? (Original Setup)
The Leagues Cup is an annual single-elimination knockout tournament (starting in 2019) with four teams from MLS and four from La Liga MX.
The four Major League Soccer teams that qualify for the are the top two teams from each conference not to qualify for the CONCACAF Champions League. The same rules apply for Liga MX – with the top four clubs not in the CONCACAF Champions League making the Leagues Cup. In many ways, the Leagues Cup works as a scaled-down version of the UEFA Europa League without a Group Stage.
What is the New Proposal between the two Leagues?
In 2023, the Leagues Cup is getting completely flipped on its head. Instead of four teams from each league competing – everyone will play for the Leagues Cup. That is 47 teams (with more teams likely in future tournaments as MLS continues its aggressive expansion plans).
Both leagues plan on taking a month off during the season to accommodate the World Cup-style tournament. Winning the tournament earns a team an automatic berth in the Round of 16 of the CONCACAF Champions League.
More details on the events will be released later in the MLS season. The logistics of 47 teams (a prime number) is one challenge. By 2023, there will be 29 teams in the MLS and 18 teams in La Liga MX.
They will likely give the higher-ranking teams in each league byes to start the tournament. Also, the MLS could continue expanding. If they reach 30 teams, the tournament will feature a nice round total of 48 clubs. As a multiple of eight, it is a perfect number to organize a tournament (12 groups of eight, eight groups of six both could work).
Why Expand the Leagues Cup?
If you do not watch North and Central American soccer, you may not realize it runs its version of the Champions League. However – like its European counterpart – it can include clubs from every CONCACAF league.
The Leagues Cup is only between clubs from Canada, the United States, and Mexico. As the three nations are partnering to host the 2026 World Cup, increasing soccer connections between the three nations is important.
Meaningful games are how you build that connection. If everyone is playing everyone annually in a super-sized tournament that lasts a month – the visibly between countries and rival teams is going to increase.
Will the League Cup mean the Demise of Other Tournaments?
We do not know exactly when the Leagues Cup will take place on the calendar. Most pundits point towards a midsummer slot. La Liga MX usually starts its season in mid to late July. The MLS season starts much earlier. However, during the summer is when clubs compete in regional tournaments such as the U.S Cup and the Canadian Championship.
These are solvable problems. For one, taking a month off to compete in this tournament means both leagues will need to expand their seasons or condense their schedules. You can reschedule the other tournaments at different times of the year. You just need to make sure the players are on board to increase their potential workloads.
It is interesting to consider if the Leagues Cup will surpass the CONCACAF Champions League. As everything in the two leagues has a shot at winning it could end up more popular than the Champions League. People love March Madness in North America. The current Leagues Cup is similar to that – although with only eight teams. If 48 teams compete, you could get some crazy upsets and wild matches – which is what fans love.