The Leagues Cup, the competition between the clubs from Major League Soccer and Liga MX has been expanded this season to include all 47 teams from the two leagues.
With this new era for the competition on the horizon, who will reach the pinnacle and be crowned Leagues Cup champion?
Nashville SC will host Inter Miami in the Leagues Cup final on Saturday night.
Miami, led by the legendary Lionel Messi, won both games in the group stage before winning matches against Orlando City FC, FC Dallas, Charlotte FC, and the Philadelphia Union to get to the title game.
Nashville beat the Colorado Rapids and lost to Toluca in the group stage, but they advanced to the knockout round where they beat FC Cincinnati, Club America, Minnesota United, and Monterrey.
Led by Messi and his former FC Barcelona teammates Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba, the new-look Miami side has scored four goals in four of six Leagues Cup games. Messi has a total of nine goals and has scored within the first 10 minutes of a game three times in the competition.
While not known for their defense, Miami kept clean sheets against Atlanta United and Charlotte FC, and have not conceded more than one goal in a match, the one exception coming in the round of 16, where they tied 4-4 with Dallas before winning on penalties.
A defensively solid team ever since entering Major League Soccer in 2020, Nashville SC had a mixed start to the Leagues Cup. They won their first game against Colorado before losing to Mexican club Toluca and escaping on penalties in knockout games against Cincinnati and Club America.
In the quarterfinals and semifinals, Nashville found its groove and kept clean sheets while beating Minnesota 5-0 and Monterrey 2-0. Sam Surridge, newly-signed striker from Nottingham Forest, has scored three goals and added an assist in three appearances off the bench.
Inter Miami are favorites in the Leagues Cup final at +115 to win.
Nashville are +210 to lift the trophy.
Lionel Messi and Inter Miami are in the Leagues Cup semifinal off the back of a 4-0 win over Charlotte FC in Friday's last eight matchup.
It's worth remembering David Beckham's club still sits at the bottom of MLS' Eastern Conference and were not among the favorites to win the Leagues Cup, even after Messi's transfer to south Florida became official.
Fast forward four weeks, Messi has scored in all five appearances for the club and Inter Miami have outscored opponents 17-6 in five Leagues Cup games. In Friday's quarterfinal victory, Messi added Miami's fourth after Josef Martinez, Robert Taylor, and a Charlotte own goal put the Herons up three to nil.
Inter Miami are +162 favorites to win the Leagues Cup.
All four quarterfinal ties took place on Friday, August 11, with three MLS teams advancing to the semifinal, while one Liga MX side - Monterrey - defeated MLS Cup champions Los Angeles FC to reach the last four.
The blockbuster semifinal match will take place at Subaru Park in Chester, Pennsylvania, when Messi, Sergio Busquets, Jordi Alba and company visit the MLS Cup runners-up Philadelphia Union on Tuesday night, with kick-off set for 7 PM ET.
Inter Miami are -175 to advance to the final, and -106 to win the match in regulation.
The Union reached the semifinal via back-to-back penalty shootout wins over DC United and NY Red Bulls before defeating Queretaro 2-1 on Friday night. A Chris Donovan tap-in in the 11th minute of added time proved the difference.
On the other side of the bracket, five different players scored for Nashville SC in a 5-0 rout of Minnesota United, while Rogelio Funes Mori completed Monterrey's comeback from two goals down in the 88th minute to beat LAFC, 3-2.
It’s taken no time at all for Lionel Messi to feel at home in an Inter Miami jersey.
That was proven yet again on Sunday night, as Messi’s two goals – including an 85th minute equalizer – powered Miami past FC Dallas and into to the Leagues Cup quarterfinals.
Following a 4-4 draw in regulation, Messi and company survived in penalties, 5-4. FC Dallas’ Paxton Pomykal had the sole miss of the round.
Inter Miami are +250 favorites to win the competition following its Round of 16 triumph. The Herons will face Charlotte FC in the quarterfinals on August 11.
The first of Messi’s two goals came in the sixth minute, and it was vintage stuff between the Argentine and his former Barcelona teammate.
Jordi Alba darted down the left wing and drilled a low cross to Messi, who was in acres of space at the top of the penalty area. Miami’s No. 10 made no mistake with the early opportunity and whipped a first-time left-footed curler past Dallas goalie Maarten Paes.
Dallas then scored the next three goals to lead 3-1 in the 63rd minute. Two minutes after, Miami made it 3-2, another Jordi Alba assist, this time to Benjamin Cremaschi. Three minutes later, Dallas went up 4-2 off a clumsy own goal from Miami winger Robert Taylor.
An equally shoddy own goal from Dallas brought Miami within one heading into the final 10 minutes of the 90’, setting the stage for more Messi magic.
Just outside the penalty area from the right side, Messi had an opportunity to tie the game at four from a position he seemingly loves to find the net from. To no one’s surprise, the World Cup winner did it again, bending his strike beyond Paes’ reach and into the top right corner.
The Herons saw out regulation and prevailed in penalties to become the first quarterfinalists in the 2023 Leagues Cup.
Messi has three consecutive braces and a total of seven goals and one assist in four games with Inter Miami.
The move of Lionel Messi to Inter Miami is a huge coup for MLS and also the Leagues Cup.
Fresh from his 2022 World Cup win, Messi and former Barcelona teammates Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba have brought their superstar status to this competition.
The Argentinian lit up his debut, scoring a free-kick in the dying seconds of the game to give his team a 2-1 victory over Cruz Azul in their first game of the group stages. He's scored five more goals and assisted once since then, while Busquets played the full 90' in the last two matches and Jordi Alba logged two assists in the win over FC Dallas.
The former Barcelona trio has brought a huge sense of excitement to the Leagues Cup, and are proving to be the story of the competition up to this point.
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 were 18 Liga MX teams and 29 MLS sides, the American clubs should have an advantage, the 12 Mexican teams will be vying to keep up their country’s dominance of this competition with victory here.
Monterrey and Club America are the shortest price of any Mexican team at +1000 to win the tournament outright.
They account for two of the five remaining Liga MX sides, also including Toluca, Queretaro, and Tigres UANL. At least two Mexican teams will feature in the QFs, as Tigres and Monterrey will face off in the Round of 16 on Tuesday, while Queretaro secured its spot by defeating the New England Revolution in penalty kicks in the Round of 16.
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 of that, where they face Mexican side Juarez, and will be hoping to continue their strong form in 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 +700 to win this year’s Leagues Cup to complete an impressive 12 months for the club.
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 of the 2022 seasons, 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 revolutionized format and expanded number of teams.
The 2022 MLS Cup winner Los Angeles and 2022 Apertura champions Pachuca qualified automatically for the round of 32 while the other 45 teams all took part in 15 groups of three.
The top two from each of those groups have progressed to the round of 16.
The knockout stages are a standard five-round single-leg knockout format with a match for third place. 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.