Sep 27, 2023, 09:17 ET
Is Mexico’s dominance over the United States over? We analyze how the failure in the Leagues Cup occurred and the outlook for the Campeones Cup and the following year’s activity.
While Lionel Messi lifted the Leagues Cup trophy on August 19, consolidating his first title at Inter Miami, as well as the first in the club’s history, the discussion south of the border with the United States was totally different.
Of the tournament made up of 47 teams, 29 from MLS and 18 from Liga MX, only one Mexican club, Monterrey, reached the semifinals. Inter Miami’s victory meant that, for the second time since 2022, an MLS club finished champion in a tournament played against Mexican rivals. This, naturally, provoked criticism and questions in that country.
Given the recent results, is the dominance of Aztec soccer over? Will they be able to Tigers improve the outlook for the Mexican squads when they face Los Angeles FC this Wednesday in the duel for the Champions Cup?
Tigres clashes with Los Angeles FC for the Campeones Cup. Imago7
Chronicle of the failure of Liga MX in Leagues Cup
The competition started on July 21 with five matches, in which Cruz Azul versus Inter Miami stood out. The duel, held at the DRV PNK Stadium in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, marked the debut of Lionel Messi with the MLS team, who was crowned with a free kick goal in the 94th minute to win the match. The result opened two very different paths: Miami would end up champion – Cruz Azul, one of the most popular teams in Mexico, would end up firing Ricardo Ferretti from the team’s management.
“The Messi effect certainly had a lot to do with commercial success [del torneo]”said Hérculez Gómez, ESPN analyst. “And in terms of seeing MLS teams against Liga MX, it was one of the most attractive things about Leagues Cup,” he continued.
The magnitude of the Leagues Cup, including 47 teams, meant a logistical challenge from the beginning. In the initial phase, an attempt was made to shorten flight distances by arranging the teams into groups with some geographical coherence.
But the home field advantage for the MLS clubs was notable, since although the distances between games were short in this phase, the initial trip of the Mexican clubs already implied fatigue. For example, to play their first group match against Montreal, the UNAM Pumas undertook a five-hour, 3,710-kilometer flight to get to the event. For its part, DC United flew 788 kilometers on an hour and a half flight to the same Canadian city.
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“I think, economically speaking, it certainly makes sense.” [que se juegue Leagues Cup] in the United States,” MLS commissioner Don Garber said ahead of Saturday’s final. “So I don’t think there’s any reason to move it, but, let’s take a step back when it’s over and look at everything,” he continued.
Without exception, all Liga MX teams traveled to get to the tournament, but on the MLS side there were those who did not travel even once.
Philadelphia, a team that beat Monterrey in the third-place match to seal its pass to the 2024 CONCACAF Champions Cup, received all seven games it played at home. LAFC, who avoided the group stage thanks to their status as the current MLS champion, played their three games in Los Angeles, although they had to “move” from BMO Stadium to the Rose Bowl for their quarterfinal duel, due to the concert by the Mexican artist Marco Antonio Solís.
Meanwhile, Monterrey accumulated more than 15,000 kilometers of flight to play its seven games in a space of almost a month. It was, by far, the team that had to move the most to fulfill its obligations in the Leagues Cup. Complaints about the format and logistics were made known at various points in the tournament, as well as that the tournament was played entirely in USA.
“I’m talking about all the Mexican teams, which have suffered various setbacks, as a result of injustice, there is a lot to improve and I hope they do it, because it is not good at all,” said José Antonio Noriega, president of Monterrey, prior to their match against LAFC.
Cruz Azul was eliminated by Charlotte FC in the penalty shootout. AP
As the Leagues Cup is a joint effort between Liga MX and MLS, Garber’s words have a greater impact as it is corroborated that the owners of the Mexican clubs themselves accepted this model of logistics, travel and little time between matches. That is to say, the owners of Liga MX are, at least, partially responsible for the Liga MX teams having had such a bad time.
Despite this, it is not contemplated that matches will be played in both Mexico and the United States by 2024.
Within the Leagues Cup organizational committee, changes to the format are already being discussed. One proposal, according to sources consulted, would be to grant shared venues to certain Liga MX teams in MLS stadiums where there is a significant population of Mexican Americans, and receive matches there based on their classification against a potential rival.
Rayados reached the semifinals of the Leagues Cup, where they were defeated by Nashville. AP
Leagues Cup: a “historic announcement” designed by Liga MX and MLS
The current format of the Leagues Cup was announced for the first time in September 2021, presented by Don Garber, commissioner of MLS, Victor Montagliani, president of CONCACAF, and Mikel Arriola, who had been the boss of Liga MX for less than a year.
“We celebrate the historic announcement of the new competition ecosystem established by CONCACAF, in which there will be an expansion of Leagues Cup,” Arriola said at the time.
The “historical” was the following: never before had a tournament been designed in which all the teams from two different international leagues faced each other in search of a common trophy.
Along with Garber and Montagliani, although it was Arriola who was in charge of announcing the tournament, the former candidate for Head of Government for Mexico City was not the one who originally designed the idea from the Aztec side. The former executive president of Liga MX, Enrique Bonilla, announced in 2018 that they were seeking to merge MLS and Liga MX after the announcement that the United States, Canada and Mexico would host the 2026 World Cup. “It is a possibility, a North American league,” Bonilla said in London.
In March 2021, FIFA president Gianni Infantino spoke positively about this possibility. But the failure of the European Super League in April of that same year evidently changed the panorama. Five months later, the Leagues Cup was reborn as a consolidation of Bonilla’s dream.
Results (and numbers) worth analyzing
Although the 2023 Leagues Cup ended with two MLS teams competing in the final, the results between teams from both leagues were neither as positive for one side nor as negative for the other.
In the current season, visiting MLS teams have won 23 percent of road games. During the Leagues Cup, Liga MX teams won 36.7 percent of their games in 90 minutes, a figure that makes the level of both leagues clear. Of course, MLS teams won seven of the 12 penalty shootouts against Mexican teams in the Leagues Cup. In contrast, MLS teams have won only 11 percent of the games they have played in Mexico for the Champions League. CONCACAF since 2018.
Queretaro surprised by being one of the two Liga MX teams that reached the quarterfinals of the Leagues Cup. AP
That is, it is three times more likely to see a Liga MX team win in an MLS stadium than an MLS team in a Liga MX stadium.
“I think if [Leagues Cup] If it were played in Mexico, you would see Liga MX teams beating MLS teams,” said Omar González, defender of the New England Revolution, during the competition.
The reality is that, even with these comforting numbers, seeing an MLS team lift the cup in a tournament where Liga MX teams also participate is not something that Mexican soccer fans like.
Although the structure of the tournament did not help the performance of the Aztec teams, the Leagues Cup format was approved by the same directors of Liga MX, who, according to Garber, see a clear economic benefit by hosting said competition entirely in the USA.
“The owners of Mexican soccer have cared more about earning dollars,” Gómez said. “What it can mean economically for them in the long term. “It is the same reason why the Mexican team plays in the United States, to feed off the nostalgia of the Mexican-American fan,” he continued.
That is to say, if the Mexican fans want to point out someone responsible for the apparently adverse conditions that the Leagues Cup presented for their favorite teams, they should not only point to those who manage the northern league, but also to those who are in charge at home.
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