Last week news emerged that the Liga MX owners are set to approve a tournament-style competition between teams in their league and Major League Soccer. The deal comes after Mexican teams pulled out of the South American Copa Libertadores tournament.
There are no details about how or even when the tournament will happen. Speculation is that it will take place in the fall since Liga MX and MLS sides now won’t enter the CONCACAF Champions League until the spring.
But those details don’t matter at the moment. There’s time to work all of those things out in the future. Right now, soccer fans in both countries ought to be celebrating this news because this competition is going to help everyone.
Improved play in CONCACAF Champions League
Mexican teams have always dominated their MLS counterparts in the current version of the CONCACAF Champions League. Just two MLS teams — Real Salt Lake in 2011 and Montreal in 2015 — have even reached the finals where they fell. MLS’s best hope, FC Dallas, fell in the last seconds in April in the second leg at Pachuca, reinforcing the idea that Liga MX sides are superior.
But that might change with this dedicated tournament between the two legs. MLS teams aren’t very familiar playing in competition outside of the U.S. and Canada. Only five teams a year get to experience it, but even then it’s minimal. Meanwhile, Mexican sides are more familiar with the international competition, competing in the Copa Libertadores competition. That difference is always on display in the CCL.
When FC Dallas took the pitch against Pachuca in their first leg meeting, there was a very obvious adjustment period for the Huntsmen. The ninth-minute Pachuca goal, which I argue won them the semifinal tie, came because FC Dallas was still adjusting to playing a Liga MX opponent. This is a team that dominated the MLS regular season the year before, but the majority of the players on the roster had never played a Liga MX side in a meaningful competition before. So they had to adjust, unfortunately, they gave up a goal in the process.
With this new tournament, hopefully that goes away, particularly for the top MLS teams. Playing Liga MX teams more frequently in a competition setting will only make MLS sides more familiar with that style of play and reduce that adjustment time. Then we’ll see a much more competitive Champions League.
More eyeballs watching MLS and Liga MX
This one might be the most important reason for the parties involved. While Liga MX obviously has the full attention of the Mexican sporting audience, making more inroads in the American landscape would be huge. Likewise, MLS is always trying to grow the Hispanic viewing audience both here and abroad.
This tournament will do wonders to help both. More Hispanic fans will be watching MLS teams and hopefully find them interesting to watch outside of Liga MX. Meanwhile, more American fans will learn about the Liga MX teams and potentially start to watch more of those matches. It’s a win-win.
From a personal standpoint, I would love to watch more Liga MX matches — the language barrier and strong disdain for flopping aside. This tournament would be a great entry point for myself and other American fans to get interested in Liga MX. Hopefully, Liga MX fans would do likewise with MLS.
Even if this doesn’t become the greatest tournament ever, getting more eyeballs watching both leagues would make this competition worth in the end.
More meaningful matches
This, however, is the biggest point — more soccer. And more meaningful soccer at that.
There’s no such things as too much good soccer, and that’s what this tournament is going to provide. We’re going to get good matches. We’re going to get more matches that matter. There are going to be more moments like the one from Montreal with a last-second goal to advance to the final. There are going to be good, competitive matches like the second leg between FC Dallas and Pachuca.
Nobody loses when more competitive and meaningful soccer is involved. And that’s exactly what we’re going to get with this tournament.
Of course, this will add a bit of fixture congestion late in the season as the MLS teams gear up for the Supporters’ Shield race and the postseason. There’s a chance that “B” teams might see the pitch in this tournament, rather than both teams fielding their usual starting XI.
But neither league’s teams will have to worry about the Champions League group stage. And even without all of the details, I can’t imagine it being any worse than what it was like in previous years with the CCL.
Still, this tournament between the two leagues is going to be great for all parties involved. It’s only going to grow both leagues as well as the sport in the U.S. and possibly Canada. This will be so much fun.