SAN JOSE, Calif. – Now coaching stateside after a successful stint in Mexico, San Jose Earthquakes coach Matias Almeyda is keeping close tabs on the latest iteration of a MLS-Liga MX tournament, the Leagues Cup.
The event opened on Tuesday with high-powered Cruz Azul outplaying their hosts the Chicago Fire, who fielded a young, inexperienced lineup which featured the likes of Homegrowns Grant Lillard, Jeremiah Gutjahr and Andre Reynolds II.
In the back half of the doubleheader, LA Galaxy coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto kept only two of his usual starters on the pitch in Julian Araujo and Giancarlo Gonzalez, but still managed to sweat out a win over Club Tijuana via penalty shootout. Designated Players Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Jonathan dos Santos didn’t dress for the occasion.
Although he admits that he would approach it differently, Almeyda recognizes and respects the decisions made by Schelotto and Fire coach Veljko Paunovic to utilize the tournament as a platform to give valuable experience to the future of their respective teams. What he doesn’t understand, however, is how the four MLS sides got selected for the inaugural edition of the tournament.
“First of all, I don’t know how the teams were drawn,” Almeyda told MLSsoccer.com this week. “We would have loved to play it, but I’m not aware of the selection process. Then it’s on the coach's decisions as to what importance they give [the tournament] and what players they field.
“I thought it was a good opportunity for MLS to showcase at what level they’re at, and to me, playing a game midweek doesn’t change anything; unless you’re playing on a daily basis, it’s a game every so often,” the Argentine added. “I believe international competition is always good, and it was a way for this league to keep growing. But everything goes through decisions made by coaches, which is respectable. What isn’t clear is why certain teams were selected and others weren’t.”
With only one week of regular-season play under their belt, it was Liga MX’s four sides playing regular starters, backing El Pelado's notion that the Leagues Cup is the closest thing to Concacaf Champions League and that excelling in it can be just as rewarding.
“I say that both [leagues] can benefit from it,” Almeyda, who won the 2018 Concacaf Champions League with Chivas Guadalajara, said of Leagues Cup. “The other day I heard analysis about Chivas and how important are the friendlies they play – they analyzed the topic of them playing Atletico Madrid [in International Champions Cup this week]. When it’s for points and international level, it’s better because it’s the closest thing to the Concacaf Champions [League].
“So, it depends on how one perceives it,” he added. “For me, every game is important; I don’t make any differences. In fact, when we played for the U.S. Open Cup, we tried to win it, but we didn’t have the possibility of doing so.”