Voices: Andrew Wiebe

Leagues Cup: Embrace the growth, future of MLS vs. Liga MX competition

I’m the annoying Leagues Cup guy. I know it. I accept it. I embrace it.

I believe in the potential of the tournament. I believe it can be one of the most entertaining and fascinating competitions on our soccer calendar. I believe it can raise the level of competition between MLS and Liga MX. I believe its creation was inevitable, and so is its growth. I believe you might come to really like it if you give it a chance. Yada yada yada.

I already wrote that column. Maybe you read it, more than two years ago. You can read it again. Just change the team names. The rest holds up. The world has changed a good bit since May 2019, but my opinion hasn’t budged.

Leagues Cup is but a baby now, so my advice, particularly for the cynics, is to treat it like one: with patience and, above all, a capacity for joy. Embrace imperfection, absurdity and cats on the field. Expectations will come with time, history and consistency. There will be changes to qualification and the competition. I’ll wager a lot that the 2021 iteration is nowhere near the final form.

Just as there were two years ago, there will be some of you who cannot resist the urge to take all this VERY SERIOUSLY. I get that. I’m a cynic and pedant, and Leagues Cup is not yet perfect. Ideally, the qualification method would be a little more straightforward for the casual fan. Ideally, the pandemic wouldn’t have pushed the Concacaf Champions League semifinals to August, complicating Liga MX qualification.

The ideal version will come, one day. Until that day, the bare minimum we ought to demand is fun.

I’m in it for the chuckles (and the familiar feeling of CCL heartbreak). Better to be an early adopter who sees a competitive MLS vs. Liga MX match on the schedule and says, “Nice, that sounds like a fun way to spend a random weeknight,” than the grizzled “Yeah, but do you remember SuperLiga?” curmudgeon who eats a heaping helping of crow years from now when the competition is mature.

And yeah, imperfection be damned, I want to see MLS win. You can’t claim to be catching Liga MX without doing the business, and this is another competitive opportunity outside CCL, for which it’s clear MLS teams still need more seasoning anyway.

I’ll be paying close attention to all four lineup drops from New York City FC, Orlando City SC, Seattle Sounders and Sporting Kansas City to see how managers handle team selection. Which young players will get an invaluable opportunity against Liga MX competition from Club Leon, Pumas, Santos Laguna and Tigres UANL? Which rested veterans from the weekend come straight into the squad?

I hope that Liga MX-turned-MLS stars Raul Ruidiaz, Alan Pulido and Maxi Moralez all go off. I’d take a pushing match or two, just to spice things up. It’s going to be a big bummer if at least one match doesn’t go to penalty kicks. Is it too much to ask for another animal on the field? Surprise me, Soccer Gods.

Most of all, I hope at least two MLS teams make the semifinals. Leagues Cup won’t be competitive (or entertaining) if it’s one-sided.

We don’t know what it will be, and that’s the whole point. If being excited about the possibilities makes me the annoying Leagues Cup guy, then so be it. I’ll happily carry that banner.

Oh, and I’ll see you at Children’s Mercy Park on Tuesday night with my three-year-old son and brother in tow. Gotta raise these kids right.