Opinion: 2023 Leagues Cup Shows New Soccer Dominance in North America

Of the 32 teams that made the knockout stages of the 2023 Leagues Cup, 20 were from Major League Soccer. This signifies a shift in the soccer landscape in North America.
Inter Miami's Lionel Messi celebrates after scoring in the Herons' 3-1 win over Orlando City in the 2023 Leagues Cup.
Inter Miami's Lionel Messi celebrates after scoring in the Herons' 3-1 win over Orlando City in the 2023 Leagues Cup. / CHANDAN KHANNA/GettyImages

The last two champions of the Leagues Cup have hailed from Liga MX — Cruz Azul and Club Leon.

However, 2023 may give Major League Soccer its first champion in the continental tournament.

And that means we’ve seen a seismic shift in North American soccer dominance as Liga MX isn't showing the prowess it did in the two previous tournaments.

Let’s get into it.

Liga MX Sides Showed Dominance Early On

The first iteration of the Leagues Cup was an eight-team single-elimination tournament that featured four teams from Liga MX and four from MLS.

The Mexican league quickly asserted itself as the strongest league in North America as only Los Angeles FC advanced to the semifinals… and that was due to winning a penalty shootout in extra time against Tijuana.

Martin Cauteruccio
Cruz Azul celebrates winning the 2019 Leagues Cup final. / Ethan Miller/GettyImages

Chicago Fire, Houston Dynamo and Real Salt Lake could not advance as both RSL and the Fire were blanked in their matches.

Only Houston pushed their match to penalties where they lost.

Cruz Azul — then a dominant force in Liga MX — and UNAL advanced to the title match in Las Vegas where Cruz Azul came out with the win.

After Covid, Liga MX Continued to Show Strength

After the tournament was halted due to Covid-19, Liga MX picked up where it left off in 2021.

Again, the Leagues Cup was an eight-team elimination tournament and MLS sides could not plug the dam of Liga MX efficiency.

Only Seattle Sounders advanced to the semifinals for MLS as Santos Laguna, UNAM and Leon dispatched their MLS counterparts with relative ease.

Gigliotti Emmanuel
Leon's Gigliotti Emmanuel celebrates after helping his club lift the 2021 Leagues Cup trophy. / Omar Vega/GettyImages

Major League Soccer did make some strides because the Sounders were able to win their semifinal match against Santos Laguna to advance to the title.

However, Leon was too much for Seattle as the Mexican side claimed the title with a 3-2 win.

2023 Isn’t The Same as Years Past

This year brought a new format to the Leagues Cup with every side playing in a World Cup-style tournament… group stages followed by knockout stages.

The top two teams in each group advanced to the knockout stages and Major League Soccer showed more prowess — advancing 20 teams while Liga MX managed to move 12 teams out.

MLS sides won eight of the groups — including Inter Miami advancing by winning their group with a pair of wins.

This display has thrown the balance of North American soccer out of whack. Even Cruz Azul’s manager said as much in a recent press conference:

"It’s good that we have this competition because many of you still think Mexico is the giant of the region. That no longer exists."

Tuca Ferretti, Cruz Azul manager

Don’t get me wrong, the results of this season’s Leagues Cup aren’t groundbreaking by any stretch of the imagination.

However, for MLS sides to make this kind of a showing against a league like Liga MX does show the competitiveness on the continent has expanded and the talent gap between the two leagues has closed.

And that is only good news for both leagues and fans so passionate about them.