EDITORIAL – The 2019 CONCACAF Leagues Cup has come and gone. The first year of the tournament had a peculiar format, but with meritocracy being used for qualification in 2020, the Leagues Cup is essentially going to be the Europa League of North American soccer. And it should be taken seriously.
Europa League for North America: CONCACAF Leagues Cup Matters
The 2019 version of this tournament was a bit of a farce. Teams were selected somewhat randomly, though the MLS teams selected conveniently were in cities where a good Mexican soccer fan crowd was likely. Several teams took it seriously, which was encouraging given the tournament was announced after the league had kicked off.
Next year the Leagues Cup will be expanding to 16 teams, eight from MLS and eight from Liga MX. For the MLS teams, the top four teams from each conference that do not qualify for CONCACAF Champions League will be in Leagues Cup. This will make the race for home playoff seeding down the stretch of the MLS regular season that more meaningful and valuable.
It’s been hard for MLS teams to compete in CCL for several reasons. Often, teams that have success are those who’ve had experience (usually together) in the tournament. Sporting KC and Toronto FC of recent years had been in CCL before and had a better idea of what to expect playing games in Mexico.
Now more teams will get more games. The entire tournament is still going to be played in the United States and every round will be single-game elimination, so it is different. But potentially a team that’s building towards competing for trophies could qualify for Leagues Cup, gain experience (or even win the darn thing), quality for CCL a year later, and be more prepared for it.
Just one of four MLS teams made it past the first round of Leagues Cup this year, so there’s room for improvement, albeit without meritocracy used to select the teams.
This tournament is an opportunity for more MLS teams to get meaningful competitive games against quality and superior opposition. It’s more data for the annual “Is MLS catching up to Liga MX?” banter that CCL brings. Most importantly, it’s another major trophy for teams and MLS to aspire to compete for and win. And in doing so against LMX competition, will make the teams, the league, and American Soccer better off.
For these reasons, Leagues Cup should be cherished and taken seriously as the Europa League of North America.