Campeones Cup an extra chance to stoke the fire of the MLS-Liga MX rivalry
There's nothing that quite gets the juices flowing for soccer fans in North America than a good ol' battle between MLS and Liga MX.
For MLS, it is the never-ending search for respect and acceptance from their Liga MX counterparts, who have reigned supreme in the CONCACAF region at club level for pretty much forever.
It is usually around February or March when articles and such start trickling out about whether THIS is the year an MLS team can finally win a CONCACAF Champions League and prove that MLS is catching up with their neighbors south of the border.
And as has been the case every spring since the Champions League format was introduced in 2008-09, it ends with a Liga MX team raising a trophy and booking a ticket to Japan, UAE, Morocco or whichever exotic location is hosting the FIFA Club World Cup.
Last spring, though, there was a disturbance in the force felt by Liga MX sides, as Toronto FC dusted off Liga MX heavyweights Tigres and Club America to reach the Champions League final, before falling in cruel fashion to Chivas in the final on penalties.
This was the first legitimate sign that an MLS team could go toe-to-toe with Mexico's finest, and the enthusiasm surrounding the matches was palpable across the region. It only makes sense that the two leagues want to seize upon this moment and give us all another chance to see MLS and Liga MX lock horns.
Hence, we have Wednesday's Campeones Cup between 2017 MLS Cup champions Toronto FC and 2017 Liga MX Apertura winners Tigres, whose fan base is hungry to avenge March's Champions League elimination to TFC in the quarterfinals.
"Of course we want to win this game. We have to beat them, especially after what happened in the Champions League," said Tigres fan and Monterrey, Mexico, resident Juan De Dios to ESPN FC via phone. "These are the matches in which you have to lay it on the line."
The timing of this match is interesting. Both teams are a good nine months removed from winning their respective league titles. Tigres have had to go one step further to even play in this game, as they topped 2018 Clausura champions Santos Laguna in July to win Mexico's Campeones de Campeones and earn the right to represent Liga MX in the Campeones Cup.
The key personnel from the two teams are still mostly intact, but the fortunes of Toronto FC are much different than last December, or even last spring when they faced Tigres in the CCL quarterfinals. While the idea of the game is appealing in Ontario, there is a feeling that this game comes at the wrong time.
"Excitement is a bit reserved for this event as it is the first time being played and holds limited bearing on anything for us right now, including not meaning anything for qualifying for another competition or whatever," said TFC supporters group "Red Patch Boys"in a statement to ESPN FC. "While hardware is always welcome fun for supporters, as chance had it, we already played Tigres earlier in the year with what felt like much higher stakes."
Playing this match in, say, February would make more sense. That would give ample time to Liga MX in January to sort out the winner of the game between their Clausura and Apertura champions, while it could serve as a Champions League primer for both teams. Make no mistake, the Champions League is the bigger fish to fry, and what better way for a team -- especially an MLS team still in preseason -- to prepare for that tournament than a Super Cup-type match.
For now, this match will be played toward the end of the following MLS season and midway through the Liga MX Apertura. What's remarkable is that despite Liga MX's dominance in this rivalry, plus the prospect of an MLS All-Stars versus Liga MX All-Stars game, there are no fears at least from the Liga MX fan's perspective that we are reaching MLS-Liga MX saturation.
"There is a rivalry between the two leagues, the two countries. Matches against MLS teams are different games, and it's important that we always win," said De Dios.
The debate will continue on whether this game is being played at the right time, but there is no denying that MLS vs. Liga MX stokes a feeling of competition that will never grow old.