Leagues Cup 2023 Format Explained: How MLS vs Liga MX Tournament works
It’s a massive, 47-team tournament involving both MLS and Liga MX. Here is everything you need to know about the expanded 2023 Leagues Cup format and how teams advance.
Teams in the MLS aren’t eligible to participate in Europe’s Champions League or any of the more prestigious worldwide soccer tournaments. As a result, Major League Soccer will always have a problem finding adequate non-friendly competition outside of the United States. This problem is heightened by MLS clubs’ past lack of success in the Club World Cup (see the 2022 Seattle Sounders).
The Leagues Cup, which is effectively MLS vs Liga MX, is a sensible option for addressing this problem. With Messi now in the picture, this event could soon favor MLS, even though Liga MX won the first two tournaments in 2019 and 2021.
We will all just have to wait to see if MLS can break through for a championship in 2023.
What is the Leagues Cup?
The Leagues Cup is a club soccer competition between teams from MLS (based in the U.S. and Canada) and Liga MX (based in Mexico). In years past, the Leagues Cup was held in a single-elimination knockout format, but this has changed for the 2023 Leagues Cup. The format now includes a group stage before going to the eventual knockout stage.
Although some fans might think a more appropriate name for this event would be the Liga MX vs MLS Tournament, it has been called the Leagues Cup throughout its history.
Leagues Cup 2023 MLS Format Explained
Let’s take time here on Betway Insider to break down the 2023 Leagues Cup format step-by-step.
The group stage of the 2023 Leagues Cup is currently taking place in a round-robin format. The group-stage draw included 45 teams -- 28 from the MLS, and 17 from Liga MX. The 2022 MLS Champions and 2022 Liga MX champions, Los Angeles FC and Pachuca, each received a bye directly to the knockout rounds and are therefore absent from the group stage.
In the group stage, there are three teams per group. The first two slots were mixed from the top 15 teams from both the MLS and Liga MX in reverse order. For example, the second-ranked MLS team would get the 16th-ranked Liga MX team in its group, the third-ranked MLS team would get the 15th-ranked Liga MX team, and so on). These teams were considered the seeded batch.
The remaining clubs, considered the unseeded batch, were then randomly drawn to make up the rest of each three-team group. There are 15 groups in total, and they are split into four geographic regions -- East, West, Central, and South.
The top two teams in each group advance to the Round of 32, which is made up of the 30 advancing teams from the group stage and the two teams (LAFC and Pachuca) that received group-stage byes.
Teams get three points for a win in regulation, two points for a win in penalties, and one point for a loss in penalties. There are no draws in group-stage matches, nor is there extra time, since tied games go directly to penalty kicks. Head-to-head matchups are the first tiebreaker in case teams are tied in standings points.
Round of 32
The 30 teams that advance from the group stage of the 2023 Leagues Cup join LAFC and Pachuca (or, in the future, whichever teams have the bye), in the Round of 32. To see the entire knockout bracket, click here.
All knockout games are single elimination and hosted in American cities, even if the matches feature multiple Liga MX teams. Games go directly to penalties at the end of normal time if the score is tied.
All Round of 32 games in the 2023 Leagues Cup bracket will be played between Aug. 2 and Aug. 4.
Round of 16
The field shrinks to 16 teams following the Round of 32. All Round of 16 games in the 2023 Leagues Cup will be played between Aug. 6 and Aug. 8. They are all single elimination with penalty kicks to break ties (i.e. no extra time).
The Leagues Cup quarterfinals are held soon after the Round of 16 concludes, with the 2023 quarterfinals scheduled for Aug. 11 and Aug. 12. The quarterfinals are are also single elimination.
The 2023 Leagues Cup semifinals will be held on Aug. 15.
The losers of semifinal matches advance to the third-place playoff on Aug. 19. The winners advance to the title game, which qualifies them for the CONCACAF Champions League.
The 2023 Leagues Cup final will be played on Saturday, Aug. 19. Both clubs will have already automatically qualified for the CONCACAF Champions League, and the winner of the match will also get a bye into the CONCACAF Champions League Round of 16.
See the full Leagues Cup 2023 schedule here.
Where is the 2023 Leagues Cup Final being played?
The venue for the 2023 Leagues Cup final has yet to be determined.
Difference from previous Leagues Cups
Prior to 2023, the Leagues Cup did not have a group stage or include nearly as many teams. The 2019 edition, featuring four clubs apiece from the MLS and Liga MX, was won by Mexican side Cruz Azul after a single-elimination tournament. The 2021 Leagues Cup followed the same format and was won by Leon.
This year, the competition has dramatically expanded from a total of seven matches to 77. The first final (2019) was played in Las Vegas. This year, there is no set location for the final, and the eventual setting will likely be partially determined by the matchup itself.
How can you watch the 2023 Leagues Cup?
As is the case with all MLS games, the 2023 Leagues Cup will be available via the Apple TV app (and via subscription). Matchups are not subject to local blackouts.
Getting Lionel Messi into this year’s competition was a big coup for Apple since his debut with Inter Miami took place in a Leagues Cup matchup against Cruz Azul. It was hardly a surprise when Messi scored the winning goal in that game.
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