Inter Miami land tough draw with Tigres in Leagues Cup title defense

Lionel Messi's title-holding Inter Miami CF will face Mexican powerhouse Tigres, while both the LA Galaxy and San Jose Earthquakes will take on Liga MX giant Chivas in the group stage of the revised Leagues Cup tournament this summer.

Kicking off on July 26 and closing out with a final on Aug. 25, the joint MLS and Liga MX "World-Cup style" competition will once again feature all 47 clubs in a battle for the regional title and three automatic spots into the 2025 Concacaf Champions Cup.

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The teams were distributed into 15 groups of three, with two byes into the knockout round given to Liga MX champion Club America and MLS Cup winner Columbus Crew. However, this year's competitors are now split into groups within two regions, East and West, as opposed to the four regions utilized in 2023.

The group distribution was set by a new "Leagues Cup Ranking" system that arranged teams into three tiers based on their 34 regular season performances in 2023. Groups were then selected and took into account travel and competitive balance.

"My understanding is that it was not a draw [from the three tiers] as much as it was a considered view of what would be equity among the 15 groups of three," said Nelson Rodriguez, MLS' executive vice president of sporting product and competition. "I think it would've been harsh, unlikely, but harsh if the top team [in Tier 1] then got the top team of the second tier and the top team of the third tier."

Highlighting the groups is East 3, where current Leagues Cup champion Inter Miami and global superstar Messi will face Liga MX's 2023 Apertura finalist Tigres and Apertura quarterfinalist Puebla.

"It's a tough group," said DaMarcus Beasley, former player for the U.S. men's national team and Puebla. "Tigres, the history that that club has from winning, especially in the last 10 years...[and] Inter Miami, you know the names, I don't have to say them all.

"[Messi] he's still the best in the world, so everybody wants to beat the best and why not in Leagues Cup 2024?"

Elsewhere in group West 2, prominent names such as Chivas and the LA Galaxy will go up against one another, with plenty of attention on returning Guadalajara legend Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez taking on his former MLS side. Also of note in West 2 is United States men's national team winger and latest Chivas signing Cade Cowell facing the San Jose Earthquakes after recently leaving them this winter.

"Him [Cowell] playing against his old club, but so quickly after he left, I think that is gonna be a storyline for sure," said Beasley.

"There's always that anticipation, right, to see these players that were in MLS now in Liga MX," added Pavel Pardo, a former Mexico international who played in both leagues.

Similar to 2023, no group stage games will end in ties, which means that penalty shootouts for one additional point will continue for matches that are level after regulation play ends.

After playing each team within their group once, the top two from the 15 groups will go through to the knockout round and join Club America and the Columbus Crew. The remaining knockout round matches, which will include a third place game, will be single-elimination. The two finalists and third place-winner will gain entry into the 2025 Concacaf Champions Cup.

All matches will continue to be played in the United States and Canada, although one modification for 2024 will allow "hub privileges" to the four top-ranked Mexican teams in order to reduce travel. Predetermined venues will serve as the home stadiums for the four-best Mexican teams in the Leagues Cup Ranking.

With varying hosting privileges -- should they progress to the following stages of the competition -- America will host matches through the semifinals, Monterrey through the Round of 16, Chivas through the Round of 32 and Tigres through the group stage.

"It's selected by the Leagues Cup Committee," said Rodriguez about the location of the four Liga MX hubs that have yet to be revealed. "They take into account preferences of those Liga MX teams and ... they also take into account fans and where there's likely to be a positive fan reaction."

Playing games in Mexico has not been ruled out for future editions, although Rodriguez noted that the initial aim of Leagues Cup was to cater to Liga MX and MLS fans in the U.S., and that those involved are being mindful of other Concacaf-sanctioned competitions.

"Being respectful of [the] Concacaf Champions Cup event and how that's run, and that's run cross-border and across nations," said Rodriguez. "Concacaf would have to be part of that conversation in that regard."

"Why not," said Pardo about possibly playing Leagues Cup games down the line in Mexico. "I think that it would be important to not only to see the cup matches in the United States [and Canada], but that we can also see them in Mexico."

The schedule and playoff brackets for the Leagues Cup are yet to be determined. The Leagues Cup Committee is made up of representatives from Leagues Cup and leadership from MLS and Liga MX.

In 2023, Inter Miami defeated Nashville SC to win the first edition of the Leagues Cup to feature every team from MLS and Liga MX.

2024 Leagues Cup groups:

West 1: Monterrey, Pumas, Austin FC
West 2: Chivas, San Jose Earthquakes, LA Galaxy
West 3: St. Louis City SC, FC Dallas, FC Juarez
West 4: Toluca, Sporting Kansas City, Chicago Fire
West 5: Leon, Portland Timbers, Colorado Rapids
West 6: Seattle Sounders, Minnesota United, Necaxa
West 7: LAFC, Vancouver Whitecaps, Club Tijuana
West 8: Houston Dynamo, Real Salt Lake, Atlas

East 1: FC Cincinnati, New York City FC, Queretaro
East 2: Orlando City, Atletico San Luis, CF Montreal
East 3: Tigres, Puebla, Inter Miami
East 4: Philadelphia Union, Charlotte FC, Cruz Azul
East 5: New England Revolution, Nashville SC, Mazatlan FC
East 6: Pachuca, New York Red Bulls, Toronto FC
East 7: Atlanta United, Santos Laguna, DC United