The Leagues Cup begins its rebirth in just a few days. Previously, the event was an invitation-based, friendly competition. But it is now an official part of the CONCACAF club ecosystem, with spots in the recently-rechristened Champions Cup on the line. However, in it’s expanded and much-lauded grand reopening campaign, Leagues Cup is going up against some substantial competition. But first, a quick primer on the competition:
What is Leagues Cup and why should you care?
Leagues Cup now features every MLS and Liga MX team. It is sanctioned by CONCACAF, and the winner, runner-up, and third place team will earn a place in the 2023 CONCACAF Champions Cup. The 2022 MLS Cup Champions (LAFC) and top overall Liga MX team from 2022 (Pachuca) have secured places in the round of 32. The remaining 45 teams are split into 15 groups of three teams. Teams will play two matches in the group stage.
The top two teams in each group will then advance to the round of 32. From this point on, the competition is a straight knockout bracket.
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Overlapping with a busy soccer season
Leagues Cup takes place during the offseason for much of the club soccer world. However, both MLS and Liga MX are taking breaks in their league seasons to make room for the tournament.
But just because the likes of La Liga, the Premier League, and other high profile competitions are out of season doesn’t mean Leagues Cup is automatically the premier soccer event this summer. In fact, it will have to compete for viewers’ attentions in what is still a busy time of year on the soccer calendar.
Leagues Cup runs from July 21 to August 19. This almost identically mirrors the biggest event of the summer, the FIFA Women’s World Cup, which starts July 20 and plays through August 20. This is an especially big event here in the USA, as the United States women are four-time champions and looking for their third title in a row.
And, as it happens, all five Leagues Cup games on the first match day effectively go head-to-head with the USWNT. The US open the group stage versus Vietnam at 9:00 PM ET. Leagues Cup has kickoffs that evening starting at 7:30 ET and wrapping up at 10:30 ET.
The same story repeats on July 26, with the USWNT right in the middle of a Leagues Cup lineup of games. Due to the time difference, many World Cup games will be played in the wee hours of the morning for US viewers. So a lot of Leagues Cup won’t directly overlap. And the finals of the two competitions are on different days (August 19 and 20 respectively). But soccer burnout might hit viewers choosing the World Cup, causing them to skip Leagues Cup.
Not just the World Cup
Beyond the international game, the summertime is friendly season in the USA. Big clubs from Europe make the trek Stateside in their offseason, and 2023 is no different.
Two big friendly events being put on this year are the Premier League Summer Series and Soccer Champions Tour. This has also set up some direct conflicts. For example, on July 23, Newcastle is playing Aston Villa at the exact time NYCFC hosts Atlas (with two other Leagues Cup games kicking off just a half hour later.
July 25 sees the LA Galaxy hosting León, while Manchester United takes on Wrexham down the freeway in San Diego. July 26, 27, and 30 all see similar direct conflicts with friendly games.
At the end of the tournament, the big leagues fire back into action. The Premier League and La Liga opening weekend is August 11-14 – the dates of the Leagues Cup quarterfinals. Both the Bundesliga and Serie A kicks off the following week, August 18-21, when the Leagues Cup Final is schedule (August 19).
A litmus test for interest in the Leagues Cup competition
Will the increased club inclusion, and competitive stakes, be enough to get fans to lock in to Leagues Cup? It will be interesting to see. All but two of the Leagues Cup groups feature two MLS teams and just one Liga MX side. So some of matches will be, frankly, not very compelling all-MLS affairs.
And the Leagues Cup’s previous existence as a throwaway event, and scheduled in prime club friendly season, may make cultivating a positive reception of the tournament difficult. Plus, much of the tournament is behind the paywall of MLS Season Pass. Aside from a small handful of games on FS1 and Univision/UniMás, most are exclusive to MLS’s streaming service.
With Leagues Cup facing competition from the premier soccer event of the year, as well as the biggest clubs from Europe, it could be a tough go.
For more information and TV listings, visit our Leagues Cup schedule page.
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