With the official schedule for the 2023 Leagues Cup group stage released, there is now another fixture in CONCACAF’s North American scene. Given that the competition has seen many different forms in it’s short existence and is now in its most expansive format yet, it is understandable that there still appears to be some confusion about what to expect.
Initially designed as an extended version of the Super Cup, prevalent in most soccer confederations around the world, the tournament now encompasses all 49 clubs from Major League Soccer (29) and Liga MX (18). The group stage, scheduled to take place between Jul. 21-31, will feature fifteen groups of three teams who will battle it out and ensure they don’t finish last in order to qualify for the round of 32.
The draw for each group takes the 2022 table and assigns the teams ranked second to 16th to their counterparts. For example, the second-placed team in the 2022 Supporter’s Shield standings will be placed in a group with the 16th placed team in last year’s Liga MX table, third will play 15th, fourth will play 14th, and so on. There will be four groups in each of the Central, East, and South regions, as well as three in the West.
The bottom two Liga MX and bottom 13 MLS clubs will then be randomly drawn into the 15 groups, rounding out that stage of the competition. As reigning MLS Cup and Apertura Champions, Los Angeles FC and Pachuca have received automatic byes to the knockout stage.
As for the group stage games, there will be no ties — if it’s all square after 90 minutes, kicks from the penalty spot will begin. A regulation win is worth three points, but should penalties be needed, then the three points will be shared with two going to the winner and a lone point to the loser.
Once the dust settles on the group stage, every knockout game is single-elimination until a winner is crowned. Not only is there a trophy at stake, but the Leagues Cup is another way for these clubs to qualify for CONCACAF’s flagship tournament — the Champions League. The winner of the third-place consolation final as well as the two teams in the final will qualify for next year’s Champions League.
However, the advantage for the winner of the Leagues Cup is a direct path to the round of 16, a massive boost that will surely help with the early-season fixture congestion that plagues so many MLS teams’ first few games. Every single Leagues Cup game will be broadcast on Apple TV’s MLS Season Pass.