By Ryan Bailey
On September 29, Columbus Crew and Cruz Azul will represent the top two leagues in the CONCACAF region in the latest edition of the competition
What is the Campeones Cup?
The Campeones Cup is an annual match between the reigning champions of Major League Soccer and the winners of Mexico’s Campeón de Campeones (the match between the winners of the Liga MX Apertura and Clausura, which are the two tournaments that comprise the Mexican top flight season).
Essentially, it is a game between the champions of the two biggest leagues in the CONCACAF region.
As a single match that pits the winners of two competitions together, it follows the supercup format that is common in world soccer. For example, the UEFA Super Cup is a contest between the winners of the Champions League and the Europa League, while the DFL-Supercup is played between the winners of the German Bundesliga and the German DFB-Pokal cup competition.
It is one of several contests that create an opportunity for MLS teams to face Liga MX opponents, helping to fuel a burgeoning rivalry between the leagues.
“We have seen the great rivalry that exists on the field between MLS and LIGA MX clubs, and these events provide a unique opportunity for fans to see their club compete in meaningful international competition while creating enormous interest and attention for both leagues,” says MLS Commissioner Don Garber.
Who is competing in the 2021 edition?
The 2021 edition will see Columbus Crew, winners of the 2020 MLS Cup, take on Cruz Azul.
The Mexican side, who play at the legendary Estadio Azteca in Mexico City, won the 2021 Clausura (the second half of the Liga MX 2020-21 season) and defeated León in the Campeón de Campeones to qualify for this game.
Who is the favorite to win this edition?
“While the Crew lifted MLS Cup at home last season, they have fallen off this year in a big way,” says Joe Lowery of MLSsoccer.com. “Because of that, Cruz Azul should certainly be considered favorites to win this year’s Campeones Cup.
“Right now, Cruz Azul find themselves sixth in the Liga MX table, while Columbus is sitting in 10th place in the Eastern Conference. Both teams have quality, certainly, but right now, there’s a pretty sizable difference in the two squads.”
When is it being played and how do I watch?
The match will take place at the Crew’s Lower.com Field in Columbus, Ohio, on Wednesday September 29 at 8pm ET. It will be broadcast on ESPN2, Univision and TUDN.
How much history does the competition have?
This is the third edition of the competition. Tigres UANL defeated Toronto FC in the inaugural contest in 2018, while Atlanta Utd shocked Club América with a 3-2 win in the 2019 edition. The Seattle Sounders were due to feature in the 2020 match, which was canceled due to the pandemic.
The rivalry between U.S. and Mexican domestic teams, however, predates the Campeones Cup, due to competitions such as the CONCACAF Champions League and its predecessor the CONCACAF Champions Cup.
“I feel like there’s always a secret competition between Liga MX and MLS in terms of which league is better,” says Darlington Nagbe, who won the Campeones Cup in 2019 and will compete in the 2021 edition. “But I feel like MLS has made huge strides in terms of the players that they’ve signed, we’ve signed here as a club, wanting to push and be the best that we can be. So I think [it brings] a little bit of bragging rights and just two good teams on show.”
Will Charlotte FC be eligible for the Campeones Cup?
Charlotte FC could compete in the 2023 Campeones Cup, but to do so, it would need to win MLS Cup in its inaugural 2022 season.
“Having the chance to compete against a high-quality Liga MX team is an extremely valuable thing,” says Lowery. “It gives players some useful experience, it gives coaches a chance to manage a cup match, and it helps further a club’s reputation.
“It’s challenging for an expansion team—or any team, really—to make it all the way to MLS Cup and, subsequently, Campeones Cup, but as Charlotte gets ready to enter MLS, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t set those two goals for themselves. MLS needs more ambitious teams. Charlotte could be one of those ambitious teams.”
Which other competitions will Charlotte FC potentially be eligible for?
In addition to regular MLS play, Charlotte FC will be entered into the US Open Cup, a domestic knockout tournament that features teams from all across the U.S. soccer league system (in the most recent edition, 84 teams participated.
In 2023, Charlotte FC will also participate in the newly reimagined Leagues Cup, a month-long summer tournament that will feature all teams from Liga MX and MLS.
Subject to MLS performance, CLTFC will also be eligible for the 2023 CONCACAF Champions League. Currently, MLS is given four berths in the 16-team competition which features clubs from across the CONCACAF region. In 2024, however, the CONCACAF Champions League is being expanded, with 27 teams and more berths available for MLS clubs.