The Leagues Cup, in all its season pausing ways, is back for 2024. This will be the second full version of the tournament that will shut down the Major League Soccer season for over a month (July 26th through August 25th). This summer, all 29 MLS teams will enter against 18 Liga MX teams. Everyone will be gunning to dethrone the reigning champions, Inter Miami CF.
On Wednesday, the leagues announced the groupings for the 2024 version of the tournament. There are eight groups of three in the West, seven groups in the East and the two league champions get a bye into the knockout rounds.
To determine groups, teams were broken into three tiers based on their last 34 regular season results. Even though Sporting Kansas City made it into the quarterfinals of the MLS Cup Playoffs (and arguably should have made it further) they find themselves in the second tier because of their regular season record.
Sporting KC (#22) went on to draw #9 seeded Toluca FC and #34 seeded Chicago Fire.
— Leagues Cup (@LeaguesCup) January 31, 2024
There is a bit of a change in hosting for 2024. In 2023, the highest seeded MLS side hosted each of the group stage games, with the lower seeded team still getting to host their Liga MX opponent. Now, the competition will look to balance things out slightly. All the games will still be played in the United States, but some Liga MX teams will get to be in hub cities and “host” games.
The Sporting News has an excellent summary of many of the changes, many of which were not in the initial announcement.
“I give the organizing committee credit for stepping back and saying, ‘how do we make it better?’ Two things jumped out: one was a need for more competitive balance within the groups, and the second was a recognition that many of the Mexican clubs had excessive travel,” said Nelson Rodriguez, Executive Vice President of Sporting Product & Competition at MLS, speaking to The Sporting News.
Also, according to The Sporting News, only the top four Liga MX teams will have “hosting rights.” Toluca is the fifth ranked team.
That means Club America (#1), CF Monterrey (#2), Chivas Guadalajara (#3) and Tigres (#4) will have hosting rights through various phases. All of them will host in the group stage (with Club America getting a bye), then Tigres falls off and Chivas, Monterrey and America host through the round of 32. Then Chivas fall off and Monterrey and America host through the round of 16 and finally Club American can continue to host all the way to the semifinals. Of course, that is only if they survive that long.
Hub cities haven’t yet been announced.
So, while it’s unofficial, that could mean Sporting KC would host both Toluca and Chicago in 2024. But it’s not official until MLS and Liga MX announce it.
Sporting KC’s Leagues Cup History
Before 2023, there was technically a Leagues Cup, but it wasn’t taken seriously by all clubs. You may recall in 2021 SKC losing 6-1 to Club Leon in a game they played mostly kids in. Peter Vermes blamed the schedule, and it was wedged into a busy stretch of games.
In 2023, they tried a lot harder. In the group stage they were dominating eventual Supporters Shield winners FC Cincinnati 2-0 until a very early Alan Pulido red card derailed that game. Despite the red card, they earned a point for a 3-3 draw before eventually losing a shootout.
Even without Alan Pulido, they went on to dominate Chivas in the second group stage match to win and advance to the knockout stage. Then they ran into Toluca, who demolished them 4-1. Sporting KC have faced Toluca before, back during the 2019 CONCACAF Champions League. They won a two-legged battle to eliminate the Mexican giants.
Perhaps 2024 is the rubber match.
What about the US Open Cup?
It looked like the Leagues Cup was going to spell the end of MLS teams in the US Open Cup. In December, MLS tried to pull its teams out of the US Open Cup. They planned to play their MLS Next Pro teams instead. Thankfully, US Soccer said no. There has been no announcement by MLS or US Soccer, but US Open Cup tickets are reported to still be in Season Ticket member packages and FIFA’s rules literally say teams must play in their domestic cup competition.
I would anticipate MLS clubs will be in the US Open Cup. How seriously they take it has always been up for questioning.
When dates, times and locations are announced, we’ll be sure to have them here on the KC Soccer Journal.