You’d be forgiven for not knowing what the Leagues Cup is. The annual series featuring eight teams—four from Liga MX and four from Major League Soccer—hasn’t garnered much enthusiasm since it began in 2019. It has the feel of an exhibition tournament awkwardly placed on the calendar, lacking the history and high stakes necessary to make it a credible competition. The Leagues Cup was in many ways more significant for what it represented: the possibility of a union between the two largest professional leagues in North America. Consolidating Liga MX and MLS makes a world of sense. It would bundle the popularity and prestige of the Mexican league with the commercial power of the American and Canadian markets.
In reality, however, such a conscious coupling would be entirely impractical.
“I’ve heard for so many years that the two leagues should merge and I never believed that that was achievable,” says MLS commissioner Don Garber. “[It] would be unbelievably complicated … almost too overwhelming to even consider.”
Here, for your records, is an incomplete list of why it would be so complicated:
MLS owners spend as much as nine figures in expansion fees (the league’s newest club, Charlotte FC, reportedly cost $325 million) for a guaranteed place in a top-tier league, from which their teams could not be relegated; Liga MX, whose owners mostly spent only a fraction of that to acquire their teams, suspended its relegation/promotion model in 2020 for five years.
The Liga MX and MLS seasons operate on different calendars—MLS runs from late February to November because of prohibitively cold winters north of the Mason-Dixon line.
The leagues structure their TV deals differently. MLS sells them as a bundle, airing in 190 countries, whereas individual MX teams sell their own rights, to far fewer countries.
Once MLS grows to 30 teams, as it is expected to in the next few years, a combined league would comprise an unmanageable 48 clubs—and, again, MLS teams can’t be relegated, so creating two tiers isn’t an option.
MLS players have limited free agency; MX players theoretically have full free…