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Leagues Cup preview: Messi joins expanded competition

The Leagues Cup, the competition between clubs from Major League Soccer and Mexico's Liga MX, has been expanded to include all 47 teams from the two leagues, while global superstar Lionel Messi is also set to feature for new club Inter Miami.

With this new era for the competition on the horizon, who will reach the pinnacle and be crowned Leagues Cup champion?

WhatLeagues Cup
WhereAcross the United States and Mexico
WhenFriday 21st July to Saturday 19th August
How to watchMLS Season Pass, FS1
OddsClub America +900, Los Angeles FC +1100, Inter Miami CF +1200, Monterrey +1200, Tigres UANL +1200, Chivas Guadalajara +1400, Philadelphia Union +1400, FC Cincinnati +1400

New format opens up tournament

The inaugural Leagues Cup took place in 2019 with four clubs from each league taking part in an eight-team knockout tournament with selected MLS clubs invited to take part, while the Mexican sides were picked based on their league position.

Liga MX sides Cruz Azul and UANL battled out the final that year, with Cruz Azul running out 2-1 winners of the first ever tournament.

Leon beat the Seattle Sounders 3-2 in the final of the 2021 edition before the fixture congestion in 2022, thanks mainly to the Qatar World Cup, meant that year’s edition was played as a series of friendly matches.

As a result, this year’s competition has been seen by some as the birth of a new tournament, considering the revolutionised format and expanded number of teams.

The 2022 MLS Cup winners Los Angeles and 2022 Apertura champions Pachuca qualify automatically for the round of 32, while the other 45 teams are divided between 15 groups of three.

The top two from each of those groups will progress to the next phase, which is a five-round single-leg knockout format with a match for third place. 

In both group and knockout stages, if a match is level after 90 minutes a penalty shootout will be used to decide the winner.

The two finalists and third-placed team will qualify for next year’s CONCACAF Champions Cup.

Messi to add star power to competition

Messi's move to Inter Miami is a huge coup for the MLS and also the Leagues Cup.

Fresh from his 2022 World Cup win, Messi and former Barcelona team-mate Sergio Busquets will be bringing their superstar status to this competition.

Inter Miami are in a group with 2019 winners Cruz Azul and 2019 Campeones Cup champions Atlanta United, and the Herons will be hoping they can have a change in fortunes from their MLS campaign, following a poor campaign so far in the Eastern Conference.

Inter Miami are +1200 to win this year’s Leagues Cup, while Cruz Azul are +2000 and Atlanta United are +3300.

Can Mexican teams continue to dominate?

With Mexican teams making up three of the previous four finalists in this competition and both of the two winners, the question will be whether they can continue that domination in this new expanded format?

Given that there are 18 Liga MX teams and 29 MLS sides, the American clubs should have an advantage, but four of the first six in the betting for this year’s Leagues Cup are Mexican teams.

Club America are +900 favourites, while Monterrey and Tigres UANL are both available at +1200. Chivas Guadalajara are next in the betting at +1400 so it is clear that the Liga MX sides are favoured by the odds compilers.

LAFC looking for clean sweep

Los Angeles FC took home the MLS Cup and Supporters’ Shield last season, completing the double.

The Falcons have progressed through to the round of 32 for this tournament as a result, and will be hoping to take their strong form from this year’s MLS into this competition.

Steve Cherundolo’s men are near the top of the standings in the Western Conference again and are +1100 second-favourites to win this year’s Leagues Cup to complete an impressive 12 months for the club.

Bye may not help Pachuca

Pachuca have secured a bye through to the round of 32 in this year’s Leagues Cup after winning the 2022 Apertura but they have had a disappointing start to the Liga MX season.

Los Tuzos have taken just one point from the nine available at the start of the new campaign and are available at +1600 to win this season’s Leagues Cup, despite not having to play in the group stages.

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