SANDY, Utah — Real Salt Lake are excited to be part of the first edition of Leagues Cup on Wednesday when they host Tigres UANL in the opening round of the new tournament (10:30 pm ET | TUDN, ESPN+ in the US, TSN GO in Canada).
Win or lose, RSL general manager Craig Waibel is eager to see what future versions of the tournament will look like.
"I don’t know what the competition means right now,' Waibel said. "It’s not a way into Concacaf Champions League. It’s not a way into another bigger competition. This is the first step. It will be interesting to see what step two is in terms of competition, level and commitment from both leagues."
That curiosity, however, shouldn't be confused with not taking this maiden edition of the tournament seriously.
“This organization is putting a lot of stock into [Leagues Cup] that we’re in starting Wednesday,” RSL head coach Mike Petke said following Saturday's draw against Minnesota United. “I’m not even looking at [RSL's next league opponent FC] Dallas right now, I’m looking at Tigres.”
Waibel sees the opportunity inherent in the concept of pitting MLS and Liga MX teams against each other, and the value it could provide to his club. Whether that opportunity is realized, he says, ultimately is in the hands of the people who will pass through the turnstiles or turn on the TV.
“It’s a reveal on Tuesday and Wednesday night,” Waibel said. “We’re all in the experimental phase of trying to create a new competition that’s meaningful. It takes time. It takes several years. It’s not the players and the clubs, it’s the fan base that decides if it’s important. It’s well past due that something like this takes hold and becomes a very relevant competition, so hopefully that next step gets us a lot closer, a lot faster.”
As far as the caliber of the opposition, Waibel is quite familiar with Tigres from previous meetings in the CCL (pictured above).
“Moments and games like this can be learning moments for teams,” Waibel said. “I think if we’re being honest, Tigres’ roster, from a simple monetary value, is on any given day with any formation or combination of players exponentially more valuable. From a cultural perspective, it’s going to be good for our guys to play a match against a team of not only the quality but of the respect that they show.”
The drawback is potentially adding three more midweek games to the busy league schedule.
“It’s a tough season. It’s a tough league to make the playoffs in, let alone be successful week to week,” Waibel said. “[This game is] magically sandwiched in between [matches vs.] Minnesota and Dallas, two teams we’re clearly right next to competitively in the Western Conference, which in January no one knew, either. If you win [in Leagues Cup], you play another one and if you win you play another one and it adds to very difficult, hot sessions in the year.”