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MLS, Liga MX announce Leagues Cup changes to reduce travel, add regional hubs

Major League Soccer and Liga MX announced Wednesday changes to this summer’s second edition of Leagues Cup, including regional hubs for top-ranked Liga MX teams to reduce travel. Once again, all 47 clubs from the two leagues across the U.S., Mexico and Canada will participate in the nearly month-long competition that will halt both leagues’ regular seasons.

The group phase of the tournament is highlighted by a matchup between Chivas de Guadalajara and the LA Galaxy. Chivas recently re-signed former Galaxy center forward Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez.

Defending Leagues Cup champions Inter Miami will face two Mexican sides in Tigres UNAL and Club Puebla in the first round. Last summer’s tournament marked Lionel Messi’s Inter Miami debut. The Argentina captain and reigning Ballon d’Or winner then led his new team to the title over Nashville SC, scoring 10 goals in seven matches.

While Messi’s introduction to soccer in North America defined the inaugural Leagues Cup, the tournament’s flaws — particularly officiating and a format that favored MLS teams — were the story in Mexico. No Leagues Cup matches were held in Mexico, so a true home-field advantage was something Liga MX sides never had in 2023. Logistically, that won’t change this summer. Mexican teams will play in the U.S. throughout the competition.

However, the Leagues Cup selection committee will devise a plan that seeks to put Liga MX’s biggest clubs in front of their U.S.-based fans. Nonetheless, last summer Liga MX executives and the league’s president, Mikel Arriola, went public with their frustrations.

“So much more organization is needed. Things have to be more fair,” CF Monterrey sporting director Manuel Noriega said in August. “There’s so much that needs to be improved and hopefully they do that, because this is not good at all.”

Arriola agreed.

“The Leagues Cup dual committee has to listen to those voices in order to represent our clubs,” he said before last summer’s Leagues Cup final. “We’ll lean on that analysis to make modifications next year, especially so that the playing field is more even.”

Those concerns appear to have been addressed. A tiered ranking system will give Liga MX’s highest-ranked teams certain privileges, including less travel and the possibility of playing in predetermined venues as the home team. Rankings will be determined on combined MLS and Liga MX club performances. MLS teams will be ranked based on the 2023 MLS Supporters’ Shield standings, while LIGA MX clubs will be ranked based on the cumulative 34 matches in the 2023 Clausura and Apertura.

Club America (Liga MX champions with a bye) will have hosting privileges through the semifinals, CF Monterrey (No. 1 rank) through the round of 16, Chivas Guadalajara (No. 4) through the round of 32, and Tigres (No. 6) throughout the group stage.

Overall, Leagues Cup attendance was disappointing. For example, less than 1,000 fans reportedly attended the all-Liga MX match between Mazatlán and FC Juárez in Austin’s Q2 Stadium. Whether these changes improve or further complicate an already controversial tournament will be something to watch.

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(Top photo courtesy of MLS)

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