In traditional European soccer, continental competitions like the Champions League and Europa League fall right smack dab in the middle of league play.
Teams have to adjust their roster for the addition of games that add wear and tear on players.
While the Leagues Cup seems a little out of place, I don’t think the competition is nearly as bad as some might think.
Here’s a little background and why.
It’s a Different Format Than What We’re Used To
If you remember to early days of Major League Soccer, you’ll remember some innovative ideas like players getting a running start on penalty kicks after extra time.
You’ll also remember the countdown clock where play stopped when the clock reached 0:00 — basically, there was no extra time.
These are rules that would never see the light of day in the Champions League.
This year’s iteration of the Leagues Cup comes with some variances:
- All MLS and Liga MX teams will play in the World Cup-style tournament — it started with just eight teams in a single-elimination tournament.
- Teams are broken down into four regions and pair with teams in similar geography — although Cruz Azul (Mexico City) is nowhere near Miami. Each region has multiple groups with the top two teams in each group advancing to a round-of-32 knockout stage.
- There is no extra time. If teams are tied at the end of regulation, there is a penalty shootout after the match (which is actually pretty exciting).
- The two finalists and third-place team will earn berths in the 2024 Concacacf Champions Cup (formerly the Concacaf Champions League).
So, there are different rules and a broader tournament placed right in the middle of the MLS season — or three games into the Liga MX Apertura season.
Here’s Why the Leagues Cup Isn’t All Bad
Some might suggest this is a competition that doesn’t have much meaning.
I mean, yes, you can qualify for the Concacaf Champions Cup, but that’s about it.
I get that.
However, the good things run a little deeper than just that.
First, we get to see sides play other teams they wouldn’t normally get to play. We would have no chance to see Cruz Azul line up against Inter Miami unless they both made the Champions Cup — which isn’t likely this season.
More matches to watch.
I know the MLS season can be a bit grueling, but I wonder if that is more because we are playing the same teams over and over and not because of the actual duration.
Just like with every other league, there is a home and away component of the schedule, but adding the Leagues Cup is just kind of exciting.
But, what about the U.S. Open Cup?
Ok, I understand that adding the U.S. Open Cup is kind of a way to broaden the schedule, but things don’t get really exciting there until the end. Before that, MLS teams are paired with USL sides (or an even lower division team that has surprised).
The excitement of that wears off after about 15 minutes.
Plus, in England, you have teams that play in the Champions League, League Cup, FA Cup and league play… all in one season.
I like the idea of seeing teams outside MLS play squads within MLS. It’s a nice break to the regular season, still gives players something to play for and is an opportunity to have a truly continental competition outside of the Concacaf Champions Cup.
I mean, Inter Miami is definitely on the outside looking in to quality for the MLS Cup playoffs. But, what a story it would make to have a team currently in last qualify for next season’s Champions Cup… all because of the Leagues Cup this season.