Catching up with the all-new (and controversial) Leagues Cup

Lionel Messi debuted for Inter Miami in the club's Leagues Cup match against Cruz Azul, coming on midway through the second half and scoring a last-gasp free-kick goal (pictured here) to give his new club a 2-1 victory. (Photo by Megan Briggs/Getty Images)
Lionel Messi debuted for Inter Miami in the club's Leagues Cup match against Cruz Azul, coming on midway through the second half and scoring a last-gasp free-kick goal (pictured here) to give his new club a 2-1 victory. (Photo by Megan Briggs/Getty Images) /
Leagues Cup preview
León players celebrate after wining a marathon penalty shootout in their Leagues Cup match against Vancouver FC. The shootout lasted 38 kicks with the Esmeraldas triumphing 16-15. (Photo by Christopher Morris – Corbis/Getty Images) /

The Concacaf Leagues Cup started in 2019 with four MLS teams and four Liga MX teams playing a single-elimination tournament with Cruz Azul claiming the inaugural trophy. The 2020 event was canceled due to the Covid pandemic.

The Leagues Cup took place again in 2021 – also an eight-team format – with León emergina as champions. The 2022 version of the Cup was reduced to a “showcase event” due to “fixture congestion” related to the 2022 World Cup.

The 2023 extravaganza taking place right now features every single MLS and Liga MX team with both leagues pausing their respective tournaments for a month to play out the 77-match schedule with the final set for Aug. 19.

ESPN’s Cesar Hernández provided a nice preview of the Leagues Cup format back in January. Here are some of the important items to be aware of:

  • The top three clubs from the 2023 Leagues Cup competition automatically earn spots in a reformatted 2024 Concacaf Champions League
  • LAFC and Pachuca (the top points earners in their respective leagues during the 2022 calendar year) were placed directly into the knockout round
  • The initial stage is comprised of 15 groups of three
  • Winners in the group stage earn 3 points; tie games go directly to a penalty shootout with the victor from the spot earning an extra point (2 points, 1 point for the shootout loser)
  • The top two teams from each group join Pachuca and LAFC in a Round of 32
  • All the games are played in the United States and Canada

Criticism of Leagues Cup broadcast availability

Apple TV acquired the Concacaf Leagues Cup television rights which has not gone over well with the common fan in Mexico. In part, this can be blamed on the Mexican networks who declined to bid for broadcast rights in Mexico.

In addition, many fans see this all-new Leagues Cup tournament as nothing more than a money grab by Liga MX (and MLS) owners. It didn’t help when Liga MX president Mikel Arriola admitted as much, explaining to reporters the rationale for agreeing to the terms of the event that features no home games for Mexican teams: “Whenever El Tri plays in the U.S. they generate seven times more income compared to a game played in Mexico,” he said.

When reality set in about the broadcast arrangements, that further alienated the common fan in Mexico, many of whom have been angered by the increasing use of streaming formats (and premium cable) for Liga MX games. This alienation is heightened by the fact that broadcast decisions are often made at the last minute whereby a game announced as being available on regular cable channels is switched to streaming or premium.

And then the rug was pulled out from under Mexican fans at the very beginning of the Leagues Cup. For weeks, Mexican broadcaster TV Azteca had been promoting the opening night Inter Miami-Cruz Azul match – Lionel Messi’s debut – only to be informed a day before kickoff that, nope, Apple TV+ had rescinded the agreement and the game would only be available on Apple TV.

That turned off many fans who have gone on to tune out the Leagues Cup altogether.

To be fair, Apple TV+ has been praised for the quality of its Leagues Cup coverage. The streaming service was already earning plaudits for its MLS broadcasts this season. The coverage has earned glowing reviews on social media.

Leagues Cup organizers fail as travel agents

Reigning Concacaf Champions League winners León were the victims of a flight snafu that saw them stuck in Vancouver when a Leagues Cup-organized flight was canceled and commercial travel plans did not pan out.

The Esmeraldas finally arrived on Los Angeles on Monday night but tournament organizers recognized their culpability and rescheduled their match (from Tuesday to Wednesday) to give the Liga MX team a day to prepare for the contest against LA Galaxy.

Leagues Cup results, upcoming matches

Matchday 1 was completed on Sunday with MLS teams enjoying a bit of an advantage (not surprising, considering they get to play all their games at home: More on that later.). Mazatlán FC and Atlas were the lone Liga MX winners as Mexican teams went 2-3-2, splitting the shootouts (with León winning a marathon shootout over Vancouver FC, 16-15).

Here is the calendar for group stage Matchday 2:

Tuesday, July 25

Inter Miami vs Atlanta United | 5:30 pm | DRV PNK Stadium
Houston Dynamo vs Santos Laguna | 6:30 pm | Shell Energy Stadium
Mazatlán FC vs FC Juárez | 7:30 pm | Q2 Stadium
FC Dallas vs Necaxa | 7:30 pm | Toyota Stadium

Wednesday, July 26

Atlético de San Luis vs New England Revolution | 5:30 pm | Gillette Stadium
Montreal vs D.C. United | 5:30 pm | Stade Saputo
New York City FC vs Toronto | 5:30 pm | Red Bull Arena
Philadelphia Union vs Querétaro | 5:30 pm | Subaru Park
Monterrey vs Real Salt Lake | 7:30 pm | America First Field
LA Galaxy vs Club León | 7:30 pm | Dignity Health Sports Park
Tigres vs Portland Timbers | 9 pm | Providence Park

Next. Raúl Jiménez on the move; Edson Álvares might be, too. dark

Thursday, July 27

Chivas vs FC Cincinnati | 6 pm | TQL Stadium
Toluca vs Nashville | 6:30 pm | GEODIS Park
Minnesota United vs Chicago Fire | 6:30 pm | Allianz Field
América vs St. Louis City | 8 pm | CITYPARK