By J Hutcherson (Aug 13, 2019) US Soccer Players - Major League Soccer's other attempt for games that count between MLS and Liga MX will play out on Wednesday night at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. It's the second edition of the Campeones Cup, a sort of super cup between MLS champions Atlanta United and Liga MX Campeon de Campeones winners Club America. Unlike the Leagues Cup, this is a single game to at least, in theory, decide the North American club champion.
It's the theory part that's a problem for the organizers. This isn't the Concacaf Champions League, the real decider of the best team in the region. It's also not a tournament or a single game with a long and storied history. Instead, it's another attempt at Mexico, the United States, and Canada working together following the successful joint bid to host the 2026 World Cup. The North American zone, as Concacaf defines the three countries, has never been closer.
So what doe this mean for club soccer in the region? It's easy enough to dismiss the rumors and outright statements from at least one Liga MX official that these are steps towards a joint league. The logistics for something like that are complicated. So is the need, short of a radical reinvention of the global soccer marketplace. Were that to happen, it's not a safe assumption that a joint North American league would provide much of a response. Some Liga MX clubs may spend more on players than MLS teams, but it's not even in the conversation with what's happening in Europe.
Both MLS and Liga MX have to be aware of their stature globally. Neither of them are pushing the bigger leagues of Europe out of the way. That too, could be part of their thinking. Stronger together won the hosting rights to the 2026 World Cup. It's tough to discount that at club level. Then again, it's not exactly inspired thinking to believe that games that count between Liga MX and MLS clubs might draw interest in the United States and Canada.
So here we are in year two of the Campeones Cup. The expectation is a crowd around half the size of the one that set a new MLS single-game attendance record a couple of weeks ago in Atlanta. That's enough of an indication for how the home fans are treating this final. Last year in Toronto, an announced crowd of 14,823 showed up at BMO Field to see Tigres lift the trophy. That 3-1 win didn't send a clear message to either league. There have been enough Champions League games between clubs from the two leagues to suggest a standard narrative. Liga MX eventually wins out. It doesn't matter if it's a single game or a tournament. If a trophy is on the line, the expectation is that a Liga MX team will lift it.
Liga MX clubs created that safe assumption on the field. MLS teams aren't necessarily underdogs. Instead, they play these games well aware of the history and the pressure. It's stopping Liga MX from winning yet another title. That's the sole job facing all of MLS right now when it comes to North America as a region. That doesn't mean that all MLS teams take it as seriously. The Leagues Cup forgot to obligate the MLS invitees to field first-choice lineups, so none of them did. The LA Galaxy surprised Tijuana to advance, but the other three MLS participants exited in the opening round.
The Campeones Cup should be different because it's a one-off, but it could also seem like an unnecessary obligation rather than a reward. There's no joint title between Liga MX and MLS. This doesn't unify what these teams already won with the Campeones winner showing they're the best from both leagues. That's a bigger ask than this tournament may ever be able to deliver. Right now, the best outcome is a quasi UEFA Super Cup. If the Europa League holder beats the Champions League winner, it doesn't rewrite the previous season. That would be silly.
Still, Atlanta winning would certainly count. It may not be the Concacaf Champions League and MLS finally breaking Liga MX's streak of titles, but it is something. MLS could send a partial message should Atlanta beat Club America on Wednesday. Times might be changing. Unfortunately for both leagues, it seems that so is everything else in world soccer.
J Hutcherson started covering soccer in 1999 and has worked as the general manager of the US National Soccer Team Players Association since 2002. Contact him at email@example.com.
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- What to watch in Europe this season
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- The new MLS playoff problem
- Concacaf's next move
Photo courtesy of MLS/Liga MX