By Luis Bueno – RIVERSIDE, CA (Jul 24, 2019) US Soccer Players - Over the years, the LA Galaxy has had several outside competitions get in the way of its annual quest for an MLS title. Regular tournaments like the US Open Cup and Concacaf Champions League joined with short-lived tournaments like the SuperLiga and the Pan-Pacific Championship.
Now the Galaxy finds itself with yet another tournament it must try and focus on. The Leagues Cup pits four MLS teams against four LigaMX sides in the two leagues’ latest attempt to try and capture attention and revenue. The Galaxy opened this new tournament by knocking out Club Tijuana on penalties in Tuesday's quarterfinal. They now host Cruz Azul on August 20 in the semis. It's abunantly clear that this isn't much of an accomplishment.
Though beating a full strength Liga MX team with a makeshift roster is a success of sorts, it's still the Leagues Cup. This is already a tournament that needs to go away. Or at least one that shouldn't be part of this Galaxy season.
MLS got to pick its participants. It's no surprise they went with four markets most likely to appeal to a cross-border fan base. That means one of the LA teams would play. That it's the older one with memories of the SuperLiga is an interesting choice. Unlike the US Open Cup and the Champions League, there are no bragging rights here. It's a tournament that feels like glorified friendlies because there's no good reason to think otherwise.
The MLS season is taxing enough without having another roadblock stand in the way of any MLS team's quest for the playoffs. MLS is trying very hard to get the respect and attention of Liga MX supporters and media. This is the latest attempt at that, but that only serves to create stumbling blocks for its teams.
For its quarterfinal match against Tijuana, the Galaxy trotted out reserves, players who the casual Galaxy fan probably did not know were even on the roster. That caliber of lineup is almost appropriate.
Now, to be fair to the tournament and the organizers, MLS vs. Liga MX matchups are always entertaining, even if they are in settings like Leagues Cup. The Galaxy - Tijuana match was lively and spirited. Players on both sides wanted to win and played hard. The passion in the stands was there to see. Fans and media alike took to social media to express their views on the match just like they would during a regular-season game for either league. Of course, the announced attendance of 10,421 was a bit of a down note.
Judging the tournament’s success on the atmosphere of games is not the greatest parameter though. SuperLiga games had a fantastic atmosphere, right from the start. The Galaxy’s game against Pachuca in the 2007 SuperLiga final was an amazing game filled with highs (Chris Klein’s spectacular bicycle-kick equalizer in stoppage time) and lows (David Beckham’s knee injury). Pachuca won on penalties with the late Miguel Calero waving his finger at Landon Donovan after stopping his attempt.
All involved know that already. Games between MLS and Liga MX teams regularly deliver. It stands to reason that wouldn't change under the Leagues Cup banner. It’s that built-in rivalry and entertainment that MLS has been trying to cash in on for years. That won't change regardless of the reception for the Leagues Cup.
So why did MLS decide to go with the Galaxy, Chicago Fire, Houston Dynamo and Real Salt Lake? Tigres and America are the last two Liga MX champions while Cruz Azul and Tijuana each made the playoffs last season. For their part, only RSL made the playoffs in 2018. Chicago, Houston, and Los Angeles have sizable Latino populations and thus made for ideal locations for the tournament. Still, the tournament could have included LAFC instead of the Galaxy if it wanted to feature Los Angeles. That could have given LAFC a bit more exposure and the opportunity to create its own history with Liga MX teams.
If anything though the Galaxy’s participation in Leagues Cup offered its reserves the chance to play against strong competition. Tijuana fielded the same 11 who took the field against Puebla in the Apertura 2019 opener on Friday. The Galaxy meanwhile trotted out a lineup that featured three players who have not played a minute in league play this season and four players who have appeared in fewer than 10 games. Name players like Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Jonathan Dos Santos did not dress.
The reserves did more than well, absorbing a lot of what Tijuana threw their way. The Galaxy overcame a second-half deficit and survived the penalty-kick shootout to advance. LA coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto now knows more about players that have not yet gotten a chance or much of a chance to shine in league play.
As for the semifinal match against Cruz Azul, the Galaxy should send out the same lineup. The Galaxy will host Cruz Azul on August 20, in between games against Seattle on the 17 and LAFC on the 25. The Galaxy sits in second place in the Western Conference. Those games could determine how the final regular-season standings shake out. Does it even need saying that reaching the MLS semifinals counts more than anything the Leagues Cup can offer?
Luis Bueno is a veteran soccer writer. Follow him on twitter @BuenoSoccer.
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Photo by Bill Barrett - ISIPhotos.com