What Would A "Superleague" Merger Between MLS And Liga MX Look Like?
In recent years, collaborations between the two competitions have tested the waters of what could eventually become a massive partnership that would garner the attention of many soccer fans from around the globe. Although there are numerous hurdles that both Liga MX and MLS would need to cross to accomplish this, it hasn’t stopped those in charge from openly admitting the discussion of an alliance.
MLS Commissioner Don Garber in December 2020, said in the interview:
Could there ever be a moment where the leagues come together in a more formal way than just playing with interleague play? Perhaps. The challenges and obstacles are many. But the opportunity is great,” he later added.
With the backdrop of an upcoming 2026 World Cup — which will be hosted by the United States, Mexico, and Canada — it makes sense (and cents if you will) for the top two soccer leagues from the region to join forces. While MLS would benefit from increased T.V. ratings and a higher level of talent that Liga MX would bring in, Liga MX would also then have the backing of more significant investment and advanced business strategies from north of the border.
And most importantly for both teams, there’s a tantalizing amount of money to be made.
So, how would a “superleague” be set up? What are some possible blueprints that they would follow?
Let’s dive into three different options that could be utilized.
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Level One: Maintain Current/Past Collaborations
Let’s start with what we’ve already seen.
One of the clearest signs of the leagues working together was the start of the Campeones Cup, an annual championship game between the top team from Liga MX and MLS. For Liga MX, the representative gained entry through the Campeon de Campeones match, which pits the champions of Liga MX’s two previous short seasons up against each other. As for MLS’s contender, it’s a bit more straightforward with the MLS Cup winner from the previous year earning a spot in the Campeones Cup.
This has so far proven to be a successful project since its debut in 2018, and although the 2020 edition was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Campeones Cup is set to return in 2021.
The Leagues Cup, which began in 2019, also continued to bridge the gaps between MLS and Liga MX.
As opposed to the Campeones Cup which only features two representatives through one game, the Leagues Cup expanded this idea by creating a knockout round tournament that invited four teams from Liga MX and four from MLS. Like the Campeones Cup, there was no 2020 edition of the Leagues Cup, although it is set to return in 2021.
A Liga MX vs MLS all-star game which was supposed to take part in 2020, will also be postponed until 2021. The inter-league all-star game will be expected to continue through at least 2022.
In short, these three competitions (Campeones Cup, Leagues Cup, and a Liga MX vs MLS all-star game) are the extent that the collaborative testing grounds have been willing to go.
And if they’re a success in 2021? That’s where MLS and Liga MX can consider taking this further.
Level Two: Advanced Partnerships
The next logical step is expanding the Leagues Cup — and not just to the 16 clubs that were supposed to take part in the canceled 2020 competition.
What would make sense is to eventually open up the Leagues Cup to most if not all teams in both Liga MX and MLS. Despite the fact that it would complicate things when it comes to scheduling other tournaments like the U.S. Open Cup, Mexico’s Copa MX or the Concacaf Champions League, expanding the Leagues Cup would still greatly improve the profile of clubs from both Liga MX and MLS.
A rescheduling of the Campeones Cup should also happen in an advanced stage of a partnership. Instead of an arbitrary day in late summer when both leagues are in the middle of their seasons, what would make more sense is a winter Campeones Cup match that immediately follows the culmination of the playoffs from both Liga MX and MLS. By doing so, it would create a World Series-like setup that would crown North America’s top soccer club.
Going forward, the next significant step would be the creation of the meaningful inter-league play. Without needing to completely intertwine both leagues and their idiosyncratic rules, MLS and Liga MX could embrace crossover matches that would impact positions in their respective regular seasons.
As mentioned, the noteworthy benefit of inter-league play during regular seasons is the ability to avoid substantial rule changes that would happen in a full merger. Instead, Liga MX and MLS could still play each other in matches that define playoff positions without needing to entirely re-write their rulebooks.
This is where this partnership could reach its peak.
Realistically speaking, an expanded Leagues Cup tournament, a World Series-like Campeones Cup at the end of the year, an annual all-star game and inter-league play that influences the regular season would do plenty to satiate those who want to see teams from both leagues on the same field. This would also still give MLS and Liga MX a strong amount of independence without the need to completely rethink their rules and procedures.
But why stop there? What if each league gains considerable attention through these efforts? What if the financial gains completely outweigh whatever logistical headaches are thrown at them?
That’s where a North American superleague could finally take shape.
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Level Three: A Full-Fledged Superleague
Let’s be clear here, both Liga MX and MLS have an enormous amount of work to do in order to find a common middle ground for a full superleague.
Garber in the aforementioned interview said:
We’ve (MLS) got a labor union and a CBA, they (Liga MX) don’t, we have salary caps, they don’t, we have an entirely different structure to how we go about managing our business, the challenges and obstacles are many.
Nevertheless, money talks, and if Liga MX and MLS want to take away some of the attention from the globe’s Euro-centric soccer core, finding a way to fully align both leagues is ideal.
So what would that look like?
One solution is to create a new top tier that would only feature the best clubs from both leagues. Through a qualification process that could hand invitations to high-performing teams, MLS and Liga MX could carve out a world-class league that features elite representatives from the region.
Along with playoffs and an eventual champion, the worst-performing teams in the new top tier would then be relegated back to Liga MX and MLS, which would serve as feeder leagues into the top tier through promotion. In essence: Liga MX and MLS could be their own separate 2nd divisions that would carry the new 1st division.
A more regional approach could also be applied in place of this. Taking another cue from MLB, there could be divisions within MLS and Liga MX that would feature interleague play. The top teams from each division would then qualify for the playoffs, which would eventually culminate in a title match between the Liga MX and MLS champions.
All that said, it’s also important to remember the number of teams that would be involved in this. At the end of 2020, MLS had 26 clubs while Liga MX had 18. Both leagues — especially MLS — are working on adding more in the near future. Finding a place for all of those teams, let alone convincing owners about the ambitions of these potential projects will be a massive undertaking on its own.
And yet, no matter what complications could arise, there seems to be no way of stopping the gradual unification of both Liga MX and MLS. Whether it be through collaborations that we’ve already seen — or perhaps through a unique and eye-catching superleague — there’s no denying that both Liga MX and MLS will continue to work together in the future.
As for the extent of that cooperation, only time will tell.
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Freelance writer Cesar Hernandez is a specialist in all things American and Mexican soccer. He has written for ESPN FC, The Athletic, The Guardian, FourFourTwo, VICE Sports and several other publications. Along with writing and previous radio appearances on the BBC, talkSPORT and SiriusXM FC, Cesar is also a member of the Mexican Soccer Show podcast. Email: [email protected]