MLS versus Liga MX: The group stage

Photo: Marjorie Elzey

For the first time in North American history, comprehensive simultaneous direct competition is underway between Major League Soccer and Liga MX. Since the group stage of the 2023 Leagues Cup tournament is now complete, we explore its interleague results.  Are the two leagues now competitive against one another?

Preliminary explanations

A full Liga MX season consists of two torneos, or tournaments, called the Apertura, the opening, and the Clausura, the closing. A full Mexican season begins at the beginning of July of one calendar year and finishes at the end of May in the next. To illustrate, the current Mexican season began this past July starting with the 2023 Apertura. It will finish at the end of May 2024 with the 2024 Clausura.

A Mexican season is not a single competitive continuity; the two tournaments are separate and each total 17 games. Each of the 18 teams plays the other 17 only once, either home or away. The reciprocal visit occurs in the second torneo of the overall season.

Group stage wins

Thirty of the 45 games of the group stage scheduled the two leagues against each other. It is the most heavily populated single sample of competition between the two leagues on record. Of those 30, Liga MX won 13, MLS won 12, and five were drawn going to penalty kick shootouts. The evenness of the numbers may reflect that the group stage was seeded.

  • Match Day One, Major League Soccer teams won three, Liga MX teams won two, and the two draws went to PKs.
  • Match Day Two, MLS teams won four, MX teams won five, and one draw went to PKs.
  • Match Day Three, MLS teams won five, MX teams won six, and two draws went to PKs.

On Match Day One several of the better-known Mexican teams did not play.

Also, the “top” team in each league was placed directly into the tournament’s knockout stage. For MLS that team, LAFC, won MLS Cup 2022. For Liga MX that team, Pachuca, was chosen by combining the regular season’s points from the 2022 calendar year’s two torneos.

Updated ranking used

Before going further, it’s worth explaining that this analysis uses a more recent 12 month aggregate table of points than the one used actually to seed the  tournament. The newer one adds the Apertura 2022 to the Clausura 2023 and provides the most recent data while still reflecting fully completed torneos. It better correlates to the interleague results because it better reflects how current Mexican teams are composed and playing.

The replaced older data does not reveal that right now Guadalajara and Queretaro demonstrate noticeable improvement in their domestic results. The older data also fails to reflect that Mazatlan’s and Santos Laguna’s domestic results are noticeably in decline,

In the “Trend” column below negatives are presented within [brackets].

Liga MX 1-July-2022 through 28-May 2023

  Team Points Trend
1st Monterrey 75
2nd America 72
3rd Pachuca 63
4th Toluca 59
5th Guadalajara 56 +12
6th Tigres 55
7th Leon 52
8th Santos Laguna 52 [-14]
9th Cruz Azul 48
10th Puebla 42
11th San Luis 37
12th Atlas** 34
13th Juarez** 34
14th Necaxa* 33
15th Tijuana* 33
16th Pumas 32
17th Queretaro 29 +11
18th Mazatlan 24 [-10]

*For the time under examination, Nexcaxa’s goal difference was [-15] and Tijuana’s was [-22]. Atlas’s was [-6] while Juarez’s was [-9].

“Trend” records variation between the two torneos equivalent to three wins or more, i.e., nine points or 17% of total games played. By that criterion, Santos Laguna and Mazatlan dropped noticeably, while Guadalajara and Queretaro rose, also noticeably.

Group stage results compared to current regular season rankings.
Group Winners
MLS – 8 (53%) MX – 7 (47%)
Cincinnati 1st Monterrey 1st
Philadelphia 4th Toluca 4th
Orlando 7th Tigres 6th
Columbus 9th Leon 7th
Chicago 13th Atlas 12th
NY Red Bull 21st Pumas 16th
Charlotte 25th Mazatlan 18th
Miami 29th
Group Runners-up
MLS – 11 (73%) MX – 4 (27%)
N England 2nd America 2nd
Nashville 5th Cruz Azul 9th
Real Salt Lake 8th Juarez 13th
Vancouver 15th Queretaro 17th
Dallas 16th
D. C. United 17th
Houston 19th
MInnesota 20th
Kansas City 22nd
Portland 23rd
NYC FC 25th
MLS – 9 (60%) MX – 6 (40%)
St. Louis 3rd Guadalajara 5th
Seattle 10th Santos Laguna 8th
Atlanta 11th Puebla 10th
Austin 12th San Luis 11th
San Jose 14th Necaxa 14th
Montreal 18th Tijuana 15th
LA Galaxy 26th
Colorado 27th
Toronto 28th

Since in the group stage there are 17 Liga MX teams and 28 MLS ones, randomness would suggest each category above should be distributed similarly. MX should be present 38% of the time and MLS, 62%.

  • Liga MX is over-represented among the group winners and under-represented among the runners-up.
  • MLS is the opposite, under-represented among the group winners and over-represented among the runners-up.
  • Both leagues are proportionally represented among the eliminated.

In plain English, the best Mexican league teams are better than their MLS counterparts. But in their lower tiers the two leagues are now competitive with each other.


  1. Chris Gibbons says:

    This is great, Tim. If anything, this tournament has shown a lot more parity than the average global soccer fan might have envisioned prior. As the rounds go on, perhaps that fades – but for now, it’s been a whole lot more fun and interesting than most anticipated.

  2. I would think, too, that you’d have to factor in the MLS teams enjoying lots of home-field advantage. IT would be interesting to see how MLS clubs would fare in Tijuana or Puebla never mind Mexico City or Ciudad Juarez.

    • Yes.
      Trying to quantify the effect of such a variable is well beyond my formal or self-taught training.

      • For those who used to rely on’s club soccer predictions project, its page says that it was frozen as of June 13, 2023 and would no longer be updated.

  3. Matt Doyle, MLS website’s Armchair Analyst, has done one of his tiers analyses titled “Leagues Cup tiers: Which knockout round teams are favorites?” It is dated Tuesday, August 1st.
    According to Doyle, three Mexican teams are the club heavyweights of the region: Monterrey, Club America, and Tigres.
    He then places nine clubs under them as having a legitimate shot at winning the tournament if everything breaks favorably. He calls them “Legit contenders.” Three are Mexican and six are from MLS, including the Philadelphia Union.
    He places Inter Messi in its own category — “They can’t possibly pull it of, can they?”
    He labels the remaining 19 as “An uphill climb”.
    If others are interested in comparing the two leagues carefully, his arguments are worth the time in my opinion.

    • I’d say with Messi and Busquets on board, a smash-and-grab of this inaugural cup tournament is not far-fetched at all.

  4. Eric Boyle says:

    I’d like to hear what the Mexican commentators have to say about the tournament.

    I would think the lack of home games may factor into their analysis.

    On thing that irks me is that they don’t play the Mexican national anthem. Kind of rude, I mean we play the Canadian anthem so why not? Rubbing salt into the away game only format for Mx teams and fans.

    • Deez Nuggs says:

      Couple things. Home games definitely have an impact, but not as much as with MLS teams vs MLS. Few MLS fans travel the kinds of distances required by this league. Liga MX has more fans spread across the region. So some games, particularly the big three, the local fans may well be outnumbered by fans of the Mexican team.
      Part 2: consider the value proposition of the tournament. Liga MX really wants to tap into the US market. And with MLS getting a big Apple TV deal, they see dollars and are happy to travel to get them.
      Finally, it’s worth considering that it is August. And August in Mexico is well worse than many of the places they would have to play here. (Texas notwithstanding) Even the fields are in many cases in better shape here.

  5. All good points. I have seen the Mx fans make an away stadium home!

  6. ExtraTime, I think, was talking about how MLS vs non Monterey/Tigres/America MX teams in CCL was mostly even. But MLS’ record is extremely bad when you factor in the other 3 MX teams

    So yeah, this checks out with the conclusion that the Top of MX is way better than MLS, but the midpack is competitive

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