Liga MX vs MLS – Which League Is Better?

If you’ve been following top football leagues outside Europe, you may have noticed there are some good ones including Liga MX and the MLS. 

So how do these competitions differ and which one is better?

Here’s what you need to know:

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The difference between Liga MX and the MLS

Liga MX is the top tier league in Mexican football consisting of 18 top-flight teams. On the other hand, the MLS is the highest football league contested by top teams from both the United States & Canada. 

Here is a further comparison of the two leagues:

Number of teams involved

Liga MX contains 18 teams which compete in the league. Meanwhile, the MLS is competed by 28 teams separated into two distinct groups (Eastern conference & Western conference) of 14 teams each. 

Origin of teams 

Teams in Liga MX originate from Mexico while those in the MLS are from the United States and Canada.

Here are some of the best teams playing in these leagues:

Liga MXMLS
Club AmericaLA Galaxy
Tigres UANLToronto FC
MonterreySeattle Sounders

Frequency and duration of competition

Both competitions are held annually like all the other club football competitions. 

Liga MX starts the season in July and completes all fixtures in May. The Liga MX follows the Apertura and Clausura format, meaning the teams compete in two separate campaigns every season.

The Apertura campaign is played from July to December while Clausura commences in January till it ends in May. Liga MX takes a short break after the Apertura campaign ends and before the Clausura campaign begins a few weeks later. 

However, the MLS operates within a different time frame. 

The MLS is split in between the regular season and the MLS cup playoffs. Regular season fixtures are contested from February to October and the winner of the Supporters’ Shield is decided at the end of this period. 

New England Revolution celebrate the 2021 Supporter’s Shield

After the regular season is concluded in October, the MLS Cup commences with the playoffs. The playoffs usually start after a two-week break and end with the cup final in November.  

Format of the competition

For Liga MX, the league is split into two short campaigns, the Apertura (opening) and Clausura (closing) championships.

Each team in the league faces the other 17 sides once to determine league standings in the Apertura league, and the top 12 teams in the league after 17 games progress to the Liguilla playoff tournament

The first four teams from the concluded campaign automatically qualify for the playoffs, while the next 8 teams enter the single-legged qualifying round, known as repechaje, which determines the remaining 4 liguilla playoff berths. Clubs with higher campaign standings host the repechaje ties against lower-ranked clubs.

During the playoffs, higher seeded teams will host the second leg of the tie against a lower seeded team. This means a team that finished 4th in the regular campaign standings will host a team that finished 7th in the second leg.

The Liguilla playoff tournament is organized in a two-legged knockout format among the 8 teams which contest from the quarter-finals to the final, and the ultimate winner earns the crown of Apertura/Clausura champions.

Atlas celebrate Apertura 2021 victory, their first trophy since 1951!  

The MLS shares a similar split format with Liga MX. America’s top-tier league organises two separate competitions: the regular season and MLS Cup playoffs.

MLS teams are organised into a pair of leagues known as the Eastern and Western Conferences. During the regular season, each team contests 34 matches – 17 matches at home and 17 matches away. 

Since there are 14 teams in each conference, all teams will play 26 ties against other teams from the same conference and another 8 against selected teams from the other conference.

Once the regular season is concluded, the Supporters’ Shield is awareded to the club which accumulated the highest points from either conference.  

After a break, the MLS Cup playoffs commence. The MLS Cup playoff rounds feature four rounds which include 12 single-legged playoff matches (6 for each conference) and one final cup match to decide the MLS champion. 

Only teams that finished in the top 7 of their regular season conference standings qualify for the MLS Cup playoffs. Clubs from the same conference face off against each other first. The playoffs start with the Conference first round, where teams progress to the Conference semifinals. 

This means that if your team finished in the top 7 of the Eastern Conference, they would qualify for the playoffs. Once they do, they play against other teams that made the top 7 in their conference to reach the Conference semifinals. 

However, the Eastern & Western Conference league leaders of the regular MLS season automatically qualify for the Conference semifinals. In contrast, the other twelve teams will face off in the Conference’s first round to reach the semifinals. 

Once your team wins the Conference Semifinals, they will advance to the Conference finals. Finally, both Conference winners will advance to the MLS Cup Final to contest for the ultimate MLS crown. 

This means that only the best team from each conference will make it to the final cup match.

At the 2021 Cup final, Portland Timbers represented the Western Conference against New York City FC from the Eastern Conference.

In total, the MLS Cup follows the American blueprint with its popular playoff system and no relegations/qualifications. These are norms in other national sports e.g. American Football, Basketball, Baseball, etc.

The playoff system brings an original American feel to the global sport of football!

Tiebreakers

Liga MX has a variety of tie-breakers depending on each scenario. For example, if both teams are tied after 90 minutes in the repechaje qualifying rounds, then the game directly proceeds to a penalty shootout. 

However, in the Liguilla playoffs, teams tied after a two-legged knockout round will not go to extra time. Instead, the winner is decided by away goal rule and if the tie remains, the higher seeded team advances to the next round.

Tigres UANL advanced to the Clausura 2022 semis over Cruz Azul as the higher seeded team after an aggregate draw.

However, the final has a different context. The tie breaker after 90 minutes is a standard 30 minutes of extra time, which advances to penalty shootout if the tie persists.   

Liga MX’s tiebreakers favour the regular season rankings.

Meanwhile, all MLS knockout ties advance to 30 minutes of extra time after a stalemated 90 minutes and, if necessary, a penalty shootout to crack the ice. Since all playoff ties are single-legged, there is no use for the away goal rule.

New York City FC defeated New England Revolution on penalties in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. The New York based club would later win the cup on penalties.

Squad size

Although squad regulations of Liga MX are unclear, the league authorities have decided to limit the number of foreign players in the league. With the recent developments, only a maximum of 10 non-homegrown players are allowed in the squad, with only 8 of them permitted to be included in the matchday squad. 

From the 2022/23 season, the limit will shrink to a maximum of 9 non-homegrown players and 7 allowed in the matchday squad. 

The purpose of this rule is to prioritise the development of native Mexican footballers at the expense of foreign players. Liga MX’s sensitive plan is aimed at boosting Mexican football ahead of the 2026 World Cup which Mexico will co-host.

Meanwhile, the MLS roster rules allow each club to have an active squad of 30 players. However, only 20 players can occupy the senior roster while 10 other players occupy the supplemental roster. The supplemental 20-man roster is  usually occupied by homegrown players

There is a total of 224 international player slots shared among all 28 MLS clubs, allocating 8 slots to each club. Moreover, MLS rules allow every club to trade their slots with another, rendering no limit to the amount of international players in a squad.  

Qualification for the competition  

Originally, one team was promoted from the Ascenso MX, the second-tier Mexican league, to Liga MX after every season. However, the Covid-19 pandemic caused Ascenso MX to fold

Liga MX teams were also relegated to the Ascenso MX on the basis of an aggregate points-per-game of the past five seasons.

Since the Ascenso MX folded, promotions and relegations will not take place until further notice. Meanwhile, the second-tier league has been rebuilt as the Liga de Expansion MX, a stopgap initiative under the Mexican Football’s “stabilisation project”. 

On the other hand, there is no qualification or relegation system implemented in the MLS. Each club is a league franchise, and will continually participate in the competition regardless of seasonal performances. 

Instead, there is a recurring pattern of new franchises joining the league. 

Charlotte FC joined the MLS ahead of the 2022 season.

Presently, there are 28 franchise teams in the MLS. However, it is expected that the number will rise to 30 clubs with new franchises imminent. 

Continental competition placing

Liga MX teams compete for four spots in the next season’s CONCACAF Champions League. Teams are awarded these spots based on their performance during the domestic campaign. 

SpotDomestic Performance
1Apertura champions
2Apertura runners-up
3Clausura champions
4Clausura runners-up

In the event that any team ends up qualifying via winning either of the campaigns and also ends up as the winner or runner-up of the other campaign, the CONCACAF CL spot is awarded to the next best team

Thus, if a team is both Apetura champion and Clasura runners up, the spot is given to the best non-finalist in the Clausura campaign.

Meanwhile, Five MLS teams usually compete in the CONCACAF CL including four US-based teams and one Canadian-based team. Two teams with the highest point from either conference qualify to the Champions League. 

In addition, the winners of the MLS Cup and US Open cup are granted the other two berths. Sometimes a team may qualify for CONCACAF CL spot on two bases, the next best team in the competition is awarded the spot in such scenarios. 

However, Canadian teams in the MLS are not awarded any of these spots. Instead, they must qualify through the Canadian Championship, the country’s domestic cup.

CONCACAF has announced that the regional Champions League will undergo an overhaul starting from the 2023 edition. Thus, many more spots will be available for the newly expanded 32-team competition.

Vancouver Whitecaps clinched the CONCACAF CL spot after winning the 2022 Canadian Championship. 

Rewards for winning the competition

Here are the rewards your team will receive for winning either competition:

Winners of either the Apertura or Clausura league tournaments receive prize money of about 4.2 million Pesos ($212,000) upon their triumph. In addition, they are guaranteed a spot in the next season’s CONCACAF Champions League.

Liga MX rewards the champions of both campaigns similarly. At the start of the next season, the winners of both campaigns will face off in a Super Cup final match, known as the Campeon de Campeones.

However, if a team won both the Clausura and Apertura, they are automatically awarded the trophy. Instead, they would face off against the defending Campeon de Campeones champions in the Supercopa de la Liga MX.

Atlas is the only club to be automatically awarded the Campeon de Campeones trophy in the 21st century. The club won both the Apertura and Clausura trophies in the 2021/22 season. Cruz de Azul defeated them in the 2022 Supercopa de la Liga MX.

The MLS Cup champions become the holders of the most prestigious football competition trophy in the United States & Canada. In addition, they are awarded a prize money amount of $300,000 for their victorious efforts. 

Like the Mexican champions, they are also guaranteed a berth in the following season’s CONCACAF Champions League.

However, there is no SuperCup competition in the MLS.

Liga MXMLS
Prize Money$212, 000$300,000
Qualification for next
season’s continental competition
YesYes
Qualification for Super CupCampeon de CampeonesNIL

Dominance of teams 

In this section, we will consider the past winners of these 2 leagues since the 2011/2012 season:

Liga MX MLS
Tigres UANL (4)LA Galaxy (2)
Club America (3)Seattle Sounders (2)
Club Leon (3)Sporting Kansas City (1)
Santos Laguna (3)Portland Timbers (1)
Atlas (2)Toronto FC (1)
Tijuana (1)Atlanta United (1)
Monterrey (1)New York City FC (1)
Pachuca (1)Columbus Crew (1)
Cruz Azul (1)
Guadalajara (1)

This accounts for the winners of both Apertura and Clausura tournaments and also for the MLS Cup but not the Supporter’s Shield. 

As you can see, Liga MX has a lot more competitive teams strong enough to challenge for the title. However, Tigres is the most dominant team in recent times.

The Liga MX has an incredibly competitive spirit

Likewise, the MLS is very competitive in nature as the playoffs give room for exciting outcomes. However, there is no clear dominance by any of the clubs.  

Continental performances

In this section, we will consider the performances of the clubs from these leagues in their continental competitions. This is the best indicator of how well a league is as a whole as these competitions are between the best clubs in the continent. 

Since teams from both of these leagues play in the same competition, it is quite easy to make a comparison. Liga MX teams have maintained a hegemony in the CONCACAF Champions League since its inception in 2011. 

Mexican teams have an incredible record in the competition: 13 Champions League titles out of 14 campaigns and runners up on 10 occasions.

On the other hand, MLS teams have encountered tough luck in the CONCACAF Champions League. Until 2022, American & Canadian teams had been runners up on 4 occasions

However, Seattle Sounders broke the ice after winning the 2022 CONCACAF Champions League. This is the first continental title of any MLS club. 

These are the semi-finalists from each league in the CONCACAF Champions League since the 2017 season:

Liga MXMLS
20222 (Tigres UNAL, Cruz Azul)2 (Seattle Sounders, New York City FC)
20213 (Monterrey, Cruz Azul, Club America)1 (Philadelphia Union)
20202 (Tigres UNAL, Club America)1 (Los Angeles FC)
20193 (Tigres UNAL, Monterrey, Santos Laguna)1 (Sporting Kansas City)
20182 (Club America, Guadalajara)2 (Toronto FC, New York Red Bulls)
20172 (Pachuca, Tigres UNAL)2 (Vancouver Whitecaps, FC Dallas)

Teams from both leagues maintain strong continental performances but Liga MX teams have been more dominant.

Verdict 

Here is a summary of the differences between these 2 leagues:

Liga MXMLS
Number of teams1828
Origin of teamsMexicoUnited States & Canada
FrequencyAnnuallyAnnually
FormatApertura and Clausura
with cup playoffs
Double round-robin league phase & cup playoffs 
Number of matches3434
Squad sizeMaximum of 10
non-homegrown players
30 players in the squad, 8 international slots by default
QualificationNoneNone
Champions League spots44
Prize money$212,000$300,000
Qualification for next season’s Champions LeagueYesYes
Qualification for next season’s SupercupYesNo supercup is contested
Dominance of teamsEqually shared among Tigres UANL, Club America & Club LeonEqually shared among several teams
Champions League Performances (semifinals)14 semifinalists in the past six years9 semifinalists in the past six years

Conclusion

Liga MX and MLS are two top-tier league competitions in North America.

Based on their higher quality of football and continental dominance, Liga MX is the better competition. However, the MLS is not far behind and is beginning to match the stride of their Mexican counterparts. 

There is an interesting competitive dynamic between both competitions that makes them interesting to watch, especially in the CONCACAF Champions League. 

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