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Comparing MLS and Liga MX on entertainment, star power & more

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Given the star power and lucrative contracts available within Major League Soccer, the question often comes up: Has MLS finally eclipsed Liga MX? Let’s discuss MLS vs Liga MX in this comparison piece.

MLS vs Liga MX comparison

Entertainment value

There’s no denying that on paper, Major League Soccer trumps this. The star power on a league-to-league basis is almost unparalleled. Clubs in MLS are able to attract top names from Europe like Lorenzo Insigne and retain World Cup winners like Thiago Almada. Add in the likes of Mateusz Klich, Christian Benteke, and Javier Hernandez, who all bring in Premier League profiles.

By comparison, Liga MX does have some big players yet most are confined to fame in Central and South America.

Moving away from the team sheet and looking at the pitch, which league is statistically more entertaining? Using the barometer that spectators want to see goals the one with more per game will be at least statistically more entertaining. In 2022, MLS had an average of 2.96 per match. Liga MX wasn’t too far behind with 2.78.

Head-to-head competition

Given the appetite for American soccer, there are now many chances to see MLS vs Liga MX contests. The CONCACAF Champions League is for all clubs in the confederation and the Leagues Cup pits US clubs against their Mexican counterparts. The 2021 and 2022 All-Star game was a direct comparison of MLS and Liga MX as selections from both leagues played each other.

       

For the most part, Liga MX has dominated the CONCACAF Champions League. Since the major rebrand in the 2008/09 season, a Mexican team has always been involved in the final. The majority have been all Mexican affairs.

Monterrey and Santos Laguna famously played each other in consecutive finals, as they were very strong during the mid-2010s era. The tide has started to shift with Seattle Sounders winning the title last season. While the script was originally being followed in Mexico City, Brian Schmetzer’s men battled back against Pumas UNAM from a 2-0 deficit with two successful penalties.

Subsequently, it was all to play for at Lumen Field. The 3-0 win on the night wrapped up an enthralling 5-2 aggregate win and a slice of US soccer history, becoming the first team to win the competition in the modern era.

While the embryonic years of the Leagues Cup have been stuttering due to a global pandemic, the cup is a nimble idea to give ample competition between the two leagues. This makes for plenty of MLS vs Liga MX fixtures that fans itch to see, meaning they don’t have to wait for their team to qualify for continental tournaments. So far, Liga MX has a clean sweep in this tournament having won both editions to date.

Stature and viewership

When it comes to prestige from the spectators, is MLS better than Liga MX? While the results of Apple TV’s venture into the 2023 broadcast rights are unknown as of yet; the results from yesteryear are not that pleasant for MLS execs.

       

Red Bull reported in 2022 that MLS was below Ligue 1, the Chinese Super League, and Liga MX for global viewership. There are other reports that state that MLS is not even the most popular league on US television screens. Frustratingly to MLS admins, Liga MX enjoyed the biggest viewership in America.

In terms of numbers on the ground, there is an upward trend in favor of Major League Soccer. In 2019, Liga MX enjoyed about 1,000 more spectators on average per game with both hitting around the 20,000 mark. Looking at the data for the 2022 season, MLS now enjoys a healthier attendance on average with over 21,000 per game turning up across the league. This of course has been bumped up by the advent of several large NFL stadiums lending their use to MLS teams during their own close season.

Unique MLS conditions

One feature that MLS has over the majority of leagues in the world is its unique attributes. The first of which is the vast array of climates and weather conditions. While spectators attending the games don’t really want to spend time in the snow, seeing Colorado Rapids play in the snow on television is outrageously interesting. The New York skyline, the LA heat, and the Canadian altitude make for wildly different styles of gameplay and matches.

Mexico’s climate sounds appealing to those from cold countries, i.e. tropical, usually warm all the time. It doesn’t have any variation. It’s always like that.

While it’s appealing for those in attendance as they’ll never need a scarf or a Bovril for warmth, the global viewership does benefit from the varying conditions arising in Major League Soccer.

Speaking about Canada, how many leagues feature teams from two nations? Sure, there’s a soft border between England and Wales as a few Welsh teams play in the English pyramid. Yet, the US and Canada divide is a real border in which you’ll probably need your passport. This makes for some very interesting games with international flair. It does, however, mean it’s far from carbon-neutral when Vancouver travels to Miami on a Wednesday night.

Format and competition

Both MLS and Liga MX employ formats that are alien to most European leagues. While Europe’s sport is officially in America and thriving, the US audience insists on some prerequisites for sport. Firstly, the standings must be geographically arranged. While teams from New York and LA can play one another, they want their own conference table.

Secondly, the elements of a postseason competition are needed. The same can be said about Liga MX, which arguably has a more befuddlingly system with an ‘opening’ and ‘closing’ season.

While European and especially UK-based viewers dislike the lack of promotion and relegation in Major League Soccer (see the European Super League scandal), simply not having it seems more useful than Liga MX’s former approach to it. The league used to create an aggregate table for five seasons with average points across the duration. The worst team of the 18 would be relegated, meaning that a team could be bad for four seasons in a row but then save themselves just by being mediocre the next one!

That system didn’t seem to work, and in 2020, the FA announced that promotion and relegation would be suspended until 2026. Therefore making it a little bit more like Major League Soccer. Maybe they’ll start to welcome new expansion teams soon.

What does Jozy Altidore think?

While a lot of players come from Liga MX to play in Major League Soccer, there aren’t usually as many players going the other way. Whether it is for the lucrative appeal of the United States or the English media exposure to scouts, it’s not always as desired for US-based players to go to Liga MX.

One of the greatest MLS players ever, Jozy Altidore did just that however. The former USMNT number nine, therefore, offers a unique standpoint on the two leagues. During his time at Club Puebla, he spoke to Mexican media. He openly went on record on how he thought Liga MX was better. While this could have just been lip service, he stated that the Mexican division was more technical and tactical, later saying that Major League Soccer teams can often just rely on physicality for success.

 

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