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1st Leagues Cup Final Between Two MLS Clubs. Has MLS Surpassed Liga MX?

By Mike Rodriguez

Nashville SC prepares to host Inter Miami CF, led by Lionel Messi, Saturday night making it the 1st Leagues Cup final between two MLS clubs.

The Leagues Cup, which debuted in July 2019, has seen two finals thus far. In 2019 Liga MX clubs Cruz Azul and UANL made it to the finals with the victor being Cruz Azul. In 2021 it was Liga MX club Leon and MLS club Seattle Sounders FC making it to the finals with Leon ultimately winning the trophy.

The 2023 Leagues Cup elevated the tournament by including all MLS and Liga MX clubs for the first time since its inception. Essentially, creating the stage for an epic clash of all 18 Liga MX and 29 MLS clubs. A World Cup-style tournament with a Group Stage made up of 4 regions (East, West, South, and Central) followed by Knockout Rounds until one team is crowned the champion.

On the eve of the 2023 Leagues Cup final, here we stand with all 18 Liga MX clubs eliminated from the tournament. The question must be asked. Has the MLS surpassed Liga MX? Here is a breakdown of how many Liga MX teams made it to the knockout rounds:

Liga MX Clubs that advanced to the leagues cup knockout rounds

Were Liga MX Clubs at Elevated Disadvantages?

No one expected this outcome. For years Liga MX has always dominated MLS Clubs. Also, during the knockout stages, MLS clubs outscored Liga MX clubs 71 to 23. Many have signaled the fall of Liga MX clubs during this tournament to the fact that they played every single game on US soil.

They traveled more miles when compared to MLS clubs and were always the away team when facing MLS clubs. Most believe that if the table was turned and Mexico would have hosted the Leagues Cup the results would have been drastically different.

In particular, 3-time MLS Cup champion Omar Gonzalez stated during an interview with Morning Footy, “I think had this tournament been in Mexico, you’d see Liga MX sides thumping MLS teams”. His argument for this sentiment is that if MLS clubs would have to play in Mexico it would be a harder environment to play in. He also stated that there are some cities with higher elevations which could affect player performance and that the weather at times is “a bit crazier”. Obviously, he also believes that one of the factors would be the constant traveling that MLS clubs would face during the tournament. Ultimately, he believes that the MLS has not surpassed Liga MX but the gap is closing.

On the flip side, others believe that Liga MX clubs had no excuses for having such little representation toward the tail end of this tournament. Former MLS and Liga MX player Herculez Gomez believes this was a “massive failure for Liga MX!”

He also stated that there were never any excuses for Liga MX when it came to playing MLS clubs in the United States. Herculez claimed that Liga MX clubs have always had an attitude of “En tu casa, en frente de todo de tu gente, te vamos a ganar” (which translates to “in your house, in front of your people, we will beat you”) when it came to playing in the States. Herculez is practically calling for all excuses to stop. Liga MX teams should have taken this opportunity to display their dominance and superiority over MLS clubs but failed to do so.

Liga MX Player and Club Stats During Leagues Cup 2023

As if the lack of representation toward the tail end of the knock-out rounds wasn’t enough, Liga MX Clubs did not make a decent representation when it came to goals and assists from both a player and club perspective.

During the tournament, there were only 3 Liga MX players that made the top 20 scorers list thus far with Lionel Messi of Inter Miami leading the pack owning 9 goals.

Only 2 Liga MX players made the top 20 assist leaders list with Emanuel Reynoso of Minnesota United owning the top spot with 6 assists.

Looking at how Liga MX clubs as a whole faired in the top 20 club goals list gives more indication of the overall struggles during this tournament. Only 6 Liga MX clubs landed on the top 20 club goals leaders list with only 2 of those clubs being in the top 10. Inter Miami CF was the top-scoring club with 21 total goals during the Leagues Cup tournament so far.

Final Thoughts

So has the MLS surpassed Liga MX? I honestly believe that Liga MX did not play to its full potential. At the very least there should have and could have easily been at least 4 Liga MX teams in the quarter-finals and at least one in the finals.

Liga MX clubs have the talent, grit, and necessary experience to succeed whether playing in their home soil or in a foreign country. However, I also believe that this tournament showed how the gap between Liga MX and the MLS is closing.

I am confident that this tournament was a huge wake-up call for Liga MX. If you thought this year’s tournament was exciting, just wait till next year. Liga MX clubs are going to be hungry and waiting for their opportunity to show the world what they are really made of because what we witnessed is truly not it.

As for the finals, MLS as a whole should be proud of the fact that for the first time in history, two of their clubs will go face to face. This year’s tournament truly showed how MLS clubs played as if they were trying to prove the entire world wrong. There was fire, there was passion, and there was determination. The future for MLS is looking bright and it would be crazy not to recognize that a man by the name of Lionel Messi was exactly what this league needed to catapult it to the stratosphere.

You can catch the epic Leagues Cup final featuring Nashville SC vs. Inter Miami CF on Saturday night at 9:00 PM on Apple TV MLS season pass. By making it to the finals both clubs have secured a guaranteed spot in next year’s CONCACAF Champions Cup.

Additionally, Philadelphia Union will host Monterrey just before the finals at 6:00 PM. The winner of this game will be awarded the third-place winner of this year’s Leagues Cup and also a guaranteed spot in next year’s CONCACAF Champions Cup.

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