Leagues Cup 2023 dates and structure announced
Major League Soccer and LIGA MX have announced important competition details, including dates, format and hosting process for the first edition of the historic and highly-anticipated 2023 Leagues Cup which will feature every club in the top two leagues in North America. See the full details here.
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We’ll get the Decision Day Watchgridometer to you tomorrow. Bless any of you who know exactly what that means.
But first, we’ve got to take a second to gain a little clarity on the newest tournament in our lives. I’m on record as thinking the tournament is going to be equal parts fun and equal parts totally exhausting to cover. The good news is that you’re probably not covering it and can just sit back and watch the best teams on the continent go head-to-head for an entire month.
Before we get into the best parts of the announcement though, let’s review the basics real quick.
Leagues Cup runs from July 21 to August 19, and both MLS and LIGA MX will pause their respective league seasons as every single team from both leagues come together to compete in 77 games hosted across the United States and Canada.
A group stage will lead to a single-elimination knockout Round of 32 and onto the championship. The Leagues Cup 2023 champion qualifies directly into the Concacaf Champions League Round of 16. Both clubs in the Leagues Cup final will qualify for the Concacaf Champions League. And the third-place match winner will qualify for the Concacaf Champions League.
Got it? Great. Onto the details.
1. Added stakes for MLS Cup
As if the next few weeks in this league weren’t important enough already, the winner of MLS Cup 2022 will get to bypass the group stage entirely. You not only get a shiny trophy, but you also get to avoid all of the possible issues (and embarrassments) that come with a group stage. You just jump right ahead to the part where no one can laugh at you for losing. Plus, you also get a little closer to winning the entire tournament. And winning the entire tournament is a really, really big deal.
There’s a world where this year’s MLS Cup winner doesn’t have to worry about group-stage competitions in back-to-back major international tournaments. Either way, just getting past the Leagues Cup group stage is a major advantage and could put the winner on track for an unprecedented run. And whoever comes away with MLS Cup this year will most likely be good enough to pull off that kind of performance.
2. An opportunity for upsets
The top 15 LIGA MX clubs without a bye from the group stage will be placed into groups based on which MLS club they’re paired up against. So the LIGA MX side with the 16th-most points this season will be paired with the MLS side with the second-most points. The 15th LIGA MX side will be paired with the second MLS side. And so on.
This is a perfect opportunity for both leagues to make a foolproof argument that their league is the best from top to bottom. Odds are none of that actually happens and we just get a random grabbag of hilarious results. Think RSL beating Monterrey or Juarez beating LAFC. The setup of this competition allows for things to get as messy as possible. Especially for each league’s biggest clubs, who will get mocked if they lose and lightly applauded if they clear a seemingly low bar to make it out of the group stage.
All considered though, we’ll truly get some sense of how far the gap between each league actually is from top to bottom. There’s no real way to predict what that will look like right now, but fans and leaders of both leagues will be keeping a close eye on how No. 4 performs against No. 14 and so forth. It could be genuinely telling. And, who knows, maybe it results in changes for both leagues if the results go south.
3. No ties
Alright, this is the really fun one. The other stuff is just about “learning” or “competitive advantage.” If you’re going to create a tournament out of thin air for the sake of creating a must-watch entertainment product, you might as well make some tweaks to make it as entertaining as possible. The tweak in this particular instance is that there will be no ties in Leagues Cup 2023.
Each team will receive one point if the game is tied after 90 minutes. However, the winner of the subsequent penalty shootout will earn an additional point. In a setup that will be decided on an extremely small sample size, those shootouts will be critical.
Now, I’m not saying get rid of ties entirely or that they don’t have their place in the sport. I’ve covered Atlanta United for the last three seasons; I’ve seen plenty of games where absolutely neither team deserves to win. What I am saying is that this tournament-style setup meant to drum up excitement and interest in the sport in a way that effectively improves the product of both leagues is the proper setup for something like this.
Of course, that’s not really what I’m actually saying. That’s what I should say. What I’m actually saying is WAKE ME UP WHEN YOU BRING BACK THE RUNNING SHOOTOUTS YOU COWARDS.
Or just decide each game with Goalie Wars. Actually, what if we made the entire tournament out of Goalie Wars?
Fine, this will suffice.
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Good luck out there. Try something new.