When the Apertura 2012 season kicks off in Mexico next month, the league will begin play under a new name. The newly-branded "Liga MX" promises a modern, forward-thinking league that is working to build a greater presence on the world football landscape. The new league name also brings with it a few immediate tangible changes. One of the biggest is the rebirth of Mexico's domestic cup competition.
Mexico's domestic cup tournament has a long history. The competition traces its beginnings all the way back to 1907, but hasn't been seen since Cruz Azul lifted the Copa Mexico trophy in 1997. Liga MX officials announced this month that the upcoming season will mark the official return of the Torneo de Copa.
Beginning the week of July 24th (following the opening weekend of the Apertura regular season), 28 teams will enter the competition. Contending for the cup will be 14 teams from Mexico’s top division and 14 from the Liga de Ascenso. The opening stage will feature group play, with the teams broken into seven groups of four. Each group will be made up of two top division clubs and two from the second division. The teams will all play six games in the opening stage -- a home and away series against every other team in the group. The top teams in each group will then advance to the knockout round, along with the single best second place finisher. These eight teams will play a single elimination style tournament until a champion is crowned.
Domestic cup competitions can be a great thing. They carry potential excitement for fans nationwide, give clubs another shot at a trophy, and bring the media spotlight to overlooked lower division sides. This is how cup competitions at their best operate, but it will be interesting to see if Mexico's Copa can accomplish any of these objectives.
One big problem right out of the gate this season will be the teams that are not making an appearance. Due to their participation in the CONCACAF Champions League, Santos, Tigres, Monterrey, and Chivas will not be involved in the Copa Mexico. This means three teams that won a league title in the last two years (Santos, Tigres, Monterrey) will be absent, along with the one team guaranteed to boost ticket sales in any city across Mexico (Chivas). There will be additional clubs lost for the Clausura 2013 edition of the cup, as the three teams that qualify for Copa Libertadores will also not be included.
Another significant issue is the drastic increase of games on the schedule. Group play runs from July 24th to September 20th, and these six extra midweek matches condensed into a relatively small timeframe will be an imposing hurdle for teams to navigate this season. The two teams that advance to the Copa finals will play nine matches in the tournament. That represents more than half a season worth of extra games. This is a tough task, and will certainly test the depth (and training staff) of every team in the league.
For fans to care about these additional matches, there needs to be something on the line. To give a cup competition a lofty place in the domestic football arena, there really has to be something at stake. Right now it’s only a trophy. The Copa winner doesn't get an automatic berth in the Champions League, or Copa Libertadores, or any other advantage. To truly earn the investment of fans, there needs to be something of value waiting at the end of the road. More games obviously means more money for club ownership, but if fans largely ignore the proceedings then it’s all for naught at the end of the day.
Domestic cups can be an important cornerstone of national leagues. Despite its history, this cup will feel brand new when it kicks off in July. There look to be several issues of concern on the immediate horizon, but the greater hope is that the Copa Mexico becomes an important future piece of the national football scene.
What are your thoughts on the new Copa Mexico? Will it prove successful? Will you follow the competition, or just skip the proceedings entirely?
Copa Mexico Groups - Apertura 2012
Universidad de Guadalajara