The quarter-finals of the Leagues Cup were this week. Liga MX teams won three out of four and only lost the other because of the lottery that is penalties. Its dominance over MLS was once again displayed in full.
Major League Soccer wants to be more competitive on the global level. It will never rival many of the European leagues as its teams will never be a part of the Champions League and the culture of football is so much more embedded in Europe than it is North America.
But the one league that MLS teams are forever banging their heads against is Liga MX, the Mexican Premier Division which consistently dominates the CONCACAF region, as has been written about and discussed at length in the national media.
Given football’s underdog size and standing, as well as the exploding growth of the game in America, its, there tends to be a comradery between teams and supporters. ‘If it is good for the sport in America, then it is good for me.’ Even if this means supporting MLS rivals in international competitions, there seems to be a greater encouragement of one another to prove MLS relevant on the international stage.
This is why the Leagues Cup exists. Obviously, there are financial reasons too, but MLS commissioner Don Garber wants to see his teams strike up rivalries with those south of the border. And the best way to do that is to provide opportunities to play more games against one another on a regular basis. The CCL helps, but the Leagues Cup is just Mexico vs America.
The main sticking point for Garber’s plan, however, is that the competition level between the two teams is not fairest. No MLS team has won the CCL since its restructuring. And this week, Liga MX teams continued to display their dominance over their American ‘rivals’.
Four Leagues Cup quarter-finals were played this week. Liga MX teams won three of them. The only one they lost was to the LA Galaxy, who relied on a scrappy, defensive game plan and the lottery of penalties to squeeze them over the line against Club Tijuana.
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What is more emphatic is that many of the Liga MX teams are still finding their feet. Their season is one game old. Most of the players will still be in pre-season sharpness, hoping to develop some match fitness with game time. MLS players are right in the thick of their domestic season. They should be as sharp as anything, even if there were plenty of line-up changes made by the four MLS head coaches.
The Leagues Cup is a funny competition. Whether it has the legs to be viable for long-term relevance and success remains to be seen. But its point is to garner competition between MLS and Liga MX teams. Until MLS teams are allowed to spend as they want to, however, as clubs are in Mexico, such competition will be one-sided.
The salary cap is an entirely American invention. It works in basketball and football because these are entirely American sports. But soccer is a global sport and implementing American rules does not work. And so, the salary cap and roster designations that MLS teams must work under hamstring them in international competition.
The gap is closing. Liga MX’s dominance is not as well-defined as it was just a few years ago. But this year’s Leagues Cup, thus far, and the CCL earlier in the season, prove that there is still a long way to go for MLS to relevant and competitive on the international stage.