Don’t act like you didn’t see Leagues Cup coming. Don’t act like you don’t see the potential, even if you’re a cynic who’s old enough to remember the SuperLiga (RIP, 2007-2010).
If you were paying attention, the rebirth of an annual head-to-head tournament between Major League Soccer and Liga MX was inevitable. And so, come July, the LA Galaxy, Real Salt Lake, Chicago Fire and Houston Dynamo will go head-to-head with Tigres, Club América, Cruz Azul and Club Tijuana. Full details here.
Atlanta United will also host either Tigres or Club América, whichever Mexican giant is Campeon de Campeones, in the aptly named Campeones Cup on Aug. 14. Last year’s inaugural match in Toronto should have been the first and last hint required to pick up on the fact that the two leagues have come to see each other not solely as competitors — for sporting glory, hearts, minds, eyeballs and the almighty dollar — but also as ideal partners.
All of which is to say that it’s going to be a busy summer, the first of many if I’m reading between the lines correctly.
“This great event will mark a new start in this relationship moving forward, with a long-term vision,” Liga MX executive president Enrique Bonilla said in a statement announcing the event. New start.
Long-term vision. In other words, this is just the beginning. Leagues Cup is only going to get bigger. More teams, more hype and more reps for MLS against the region’s top teams.
The logic behind the tournament goes something like this: Concacaf’s marquee rivalry is too compelling to be contained by the international game and a couple early spring clashes in the Champions League. MLS teams, flush with TAM and beginning to tap into their developmental pipelines, need to test themselves against the region’s best in competitive matches. Liga MX, meanwhile, wants to grow its profile in the US and Canada. Everybody wins.
You should know what the cynics are saying, too. Do we win with more midweek games? Do we win if those games stretch squads thin and become glorified friendlies? Do we win if Leagues Cup is #CCLFever delayed by a few months, generally dominated by Liga MX and physically debilitating?
All fair questions. All to be determined.
We win if Leagues Cup has the trappings of a real competition that clubs, coaches and players treat as such. We win if the games have real menace and quality, thanks to prize money, pride, the single-elimination format or some combination of all of the above. We win if the regular season, CCL and US Open Cup don’t suffer for it. We win if the games matter and it doesn’t take a think piece to explain why.
What if coaches play their stars, of which there are many, and really go for it? What if this tournament and the burgeoning relationship with Liga MX help drive MLS to reach a new standard? What if Leagues Cup becomes a staple of the North American soccer schedule, an annual opportunity to commune our respective soccer cultures before the playoff races and Apertura heat up? What if we don’t expect the finished product right away?
That’s a lot of what ifs — some more realistic than others — but there’s only one way to find out whether any of them will come off. You’ve got to play the games.
Cynics, I hear you, but this is just the start. Best we treat it as such. Whatever Leagues Cup looks like in 2019 — eight teams, clubs by invitation rather than merit — isn’t what it will look like in 2020, when up to 16 clubs could join the fray via competitive qualification, and beyond. And make no mistake, there is a beyond.
This is just the beginning. Don’t act like you didn’t see it coming. Don’t act like you don’t see the potential.