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Messi, Inter Miami: how MLS is played and the other three tournaments that can have their magic in North America


Highlights: Lionel Messi's arrival will mark a huge leap in quality for Major League Soccer. Since the first tournament in 1996, each of the 28 editions of MLS had Albiceleste representation. In the current season, 29 teams are involved, including three from Canada. The last team to join, this year, was St. Louis City SC. In 2025 there will be 30 because San Diego FC will be added, which will play at home in Mission Valley and still have no shield or jersey colors.

Major League Soccer is the main attraction. But there is also the US Open Cup and, at the continental level, the Concacaf Champions' Cup and the League Cup await it. How they are played.

The arrival at Inter Miami with almost 36 years will be a very new experience in the career of Lionel Messi. And his arrival will mark a huge leap in quality for Major League Soccer, a league with less than three decades of history, through which great stars of world football have already passed, which has an important Argentine endowment and whose current champion is Los Angeles FC.

On April 6, 1996, two years after the United States hosted a soccer World Cup for the first time, the first match of the inaugural MLS season was played: that day and thanks to a goal by striker Eric Wynalda, San Jose Clash defeated DC United 1-0. that in the end would be the champion of that edition of the contest in which only 10 teams participated.

In the early years, extremely complicated for the survival of the tournament (it was close to disappearing in 2001), the MLS aimed to attract the public by hiring players of some renown who were already in the twilight of their careers such as the Colombian Carlos Valderrama, the Italian Roberto Donadoni, the German Lothar Matthäus or the French Youri Djorkaeff.

After that first turbulent decade, the league was consolidated and managed to seduce important players such as the Swedish Zlatan Ibrahimovic; Frenchman Thierry Henry; England's David Beckham, Wayne Rooney, Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard; the Italian Andrea Pirlo, the Brazilian Kaka or the Ivorian Didier Drogba.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic played two years with the Los Angeles Galaxy. Photo: Ringo H.W. Chiu / AP.

That growing attraction that was generated by the American league also magnetized many Argentines. Since the first tournament in 1996, which featured six compatriots (including Diego Soñora), each of the 28 editions of MLS had Albiceleste representation. So far it was played by 173 players born in these lands (three goalkeepers, 39 defenders, 65 midfielders and 67 forwards)

In the first decade of the XXI century, renowned players such as Guillermo Barros Schelotto (champion with Columbus Crew and Most Valuable Player of the season in 2008) or Claudio Piojo López were encouraged. A few years later they were followed by men who wrote an outstanding history in the league such as Diego Valeri (with Portland Timbers he was champion in 2015 and was distinguished with the MVP in 2017), Ignacio Piatti, Federico Higuaín and Luciano Acosta.

Diego Valeri was a figure for nine seasons with the Portland Timbers. Photo: Steph Chambers/Getty Images/AFP.

In recent years, the doors opened wide and Argentina was, along with Brazil, the country that contributed the most players to the tournament, after the United States and Canada. Since 2014, there were never less than 20 compatriots and in 2021 the record of 47 was reached. This season there are 37, including a world champion in Qatar, Thiago Almada, who became the first MLS player to reach that achievement.

Simultaneously with the opening to an increasing number of foreign players, MLS expanded and even crossed the borders of the United States. In the current season, 29 teams are involved, including three from Canada: Toronto FC (it was the first to join the competition, in 2007, and was champion in 2017), Vancouver Whitecaps and CF Montreal. The last team to join, this year, was St. Louis City SC. In 2025 there will be 30 because San Diego FC will be added, which will play at home in Mission Valley and still has no shield or jersey colors.

Atlanta United's Thiago Almada was the first player to win a World Cup while on an MLS roster. Photo: Dale Zanine / USA Today / Reuters.

The 29 teams are divided into two conferences: East (15 involved, including Inter Miami, which is last) and West (has 14 members). Each club plays 34 games in the regular season. The East faces each opponent in their conference twice and six opponents from the West once. The West face their conference rivals at least twice. In addition, with one or two of them they face once again and also once they clash with six or seven teams from the East.

The team with the most points throughout the opening phase takes the MLS Supporter's Shield trophy – and a ticket to the Concacaf Champions League – but is not a champion. Because then come the playoffs.

The top seven of each conference at the end of the regular phase will directly access the knockout stages of the playoffs (called MLS Cup). Teams in eighth and ninth place in each conference face each other for the last two spots in that instance. The crosses of the knockout stages will be the best of three games, while the rest of the qualifiers, including the final, will be to a match – in case of equality, there are lengthening and penalties.

A democratic and competitive league

Venezuela's Josef Martinez is one of Inter Miami's three Designated Players. Photo: MLS Press.

As in the main leagues of the four most important sports in the United States (basketball, baseball, football and ice hockey), MLS contemplates limitations and regulations for the preparation of the rosters of each team in order to achieve greater competitiveness.

The campuses have a maximum of 30 members, of which only 20 can be part of the Senior List. The other 10 places (the Supplementary List) can only be occupied by youth players (under 24 years of age) or by players with minimum salaries (between 67,360 and 85,444 dollars). Each franchise has a budget cap of $5.21 million to distribute to its senior players, plus a General Allocation Fund (this season is $1.9 million) that can be used for extraordinary expenses.

Within its roster, each franchise can count up to three Designated Players, whose salary and acquisition cost may exceed the budget limit. The three men who currently enjoy that privilege in Inter Miami are the Venezuelan Josef Martínez, the Mexican Rodolfo Pizarro and the Brazilian Gregore, although it is discounted that the Rosario will occupy one of those places.

Also as in the NBA, MLB, NFL or NHL, there is a selection system, the SuperDraft, which allows teams to choose three players before the start of the season (the last one was held in December 2022). The order of selection is determined by the location in the previous season (the last in the order chooses first) and most of the players chosen are college seniors participating in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) tournament.

Senegalese defender Hamady Diop, from Clemson University, was the first player chosen in the last SuperDraft: he was selected by Charlotte FC.

The US Open Cup, the Copa Argentina from there

Although Major League Soccer, of which the Los Angeles Galaxy is the winningest team (it won five titles, the last in 2014), is the most popular competition, it is not the only one or the most numerous that takes place in the United States. In the style of the Copa Argentina and organized by US Soccer (the federation of that country), the US Open Cup brings together the 29 MLS teams and 79 other professional, semi-professional and amateur teams.

The first edition of this historic single-elimination tournament was held in 1914. In 1996 the casts that year also began to play the MLS and since then they won all editions with the exception of 1999, which was held by Rochester Raging Rhinos, which participated in the A-League (at that time it was the second division of American soccer).

The US Open Cup 2023 already has the four semifinalists defined: FC Cincinnati, in which the Argentines Álvaro Barreal and Luciano Acosta play, and Houston Dynamo FC, which has Franco Escobar. They were joined by Inter Miami, which on Wednesday eliminated Birmingham Legion FC (participating in the USL Championship) by a brief 1-0 and Real Salt Lake, which beat Los Angeles Galaxy 3-2.

Álvaro Barreal will play with FC Cincinnati one of the semifinals of the US Open Cup 2023. Photo: Katie Stratman / USA Today / Reuters.

The Concacaf Champions League is my obsession

Both MLS and the US Open Cup award berths to the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Football Champions League, the region's premier club tournament, whose champion represents Concacaf at the Club World Cup. The 2023 edition, which ended on Sunday, was won by Leon of Mexico, who beat Los Angeles FC in the final. In addition to the Los Angeles team, four other MLS teams participated: Orlando City, Philadelphia Union, Austin FC and Vancouver Whitecaps (as a representative of the Canadian championship, in which he also participates).

Concacaf has already announced that from 2024 that tournament will not only recover its old name, Copa de Campeones (as it was called from 1962 to 2008), but will increase its number of participants from 16 to 27. The tournament will cover five knockout rounds in two-legged series, with the exception of the final, which will be resolved in a single match.

Los Angeles FC lost the final of the 2023 edition of the CONCACAF Champions League. Photo: Alisso Dinner / EFE / EPA.

The other international tournament in which MLS teams participate, along with those of the Mexican Liga MX, is the Leagues Cup. The first two editions, in 2019 (won by Cruz Azul) and in 2021 (León won), had a reduced format, with the participation of four sets from each championship. But as of this year the tournament was incorporated into the official orbit of Concacaf and was expanded: it will be played by the 29 clubs of the MLS and the 18 of the Liga MX.

In the first phase of this edition of the Leagues Cup, which will begin on July 21, Inter Miami will share Group South 3 with Cruz Azul and Atlanta United. The top two from each zone will advance to the 16th finals and thereafter will cross paths in single-elimination duels until the final. The tournament will award three tickets to the CONCACAF Champions' Cup.

See also

The National Team, attentive to Messi's decision: how the captain's arrival can affect the host country of the Copa America and the World Cup

Messi to Inter Miami: the best phrases of Leo in the interview that confirms the pass

Source: clarin

All news articles on 2023-06-09

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