MLS, Liga MX may not last as All-Star Game partners – Sports Illustrated
The MLS All-Star Game format always tends to be a topic of conversation when the league hosts its annual summer showcase. It’s gone through multiple iterations—MLS-only versions, MLS vs. guest clubs, even MLS vs. USMNT—but the current edition, MLS vs. Liga MX, carries with it a unique element and appears to have the makings of a format with staying power. For a second straight year, MLS and Liga MX put on an entertaining show, as the rival and neighboring leagues did their best in Minnesota on Wednesday night to raise what’s otherwise a glorified exhibition. The players seem to have taken to it.
“We played Atlético Madrid in Orlando in 2019, and it was competitive—you’re wanting to prove that you can play at a high level,” Nashville SC and U.S. center back Walker Zimmerman said prior to the game, comparing the notion of facing a European club to facing a group of Liga MX counterparts. “But the competitiveness on the field last year in L.A. against Liga MX was definitely a new step in terms of the competition.
“It’s a competitive atmosphere. The game is not something that you see in a typical All-Star game, whether that’s the NBA or baseball, this is very competitive.”
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Indeed, last season’s triumph at LAFC’s home stadium was largely memorable for what a pair of U.S. internationals achieved in MLS’s triumph following a penalty-kick shootout, with forward Ricardo Pepi (on the eve of his maiden senior U.S. call-up) and goalkeeper Matt Turner stealing the show in PKs. The skills competitions over the last two years have included some incredibly fun moments, if not the most technically flawless ones, as well.
Wednesday night’s 2-1 MLS win featured another fun wrinkle, with LAFC star and Mexican international Carlos Vela scoring just over two minutes in against the players from his former league. In starting alongside LA Galaxy star Chicharito, it marked the first time the two have played on the same team since the 2018 World Cup.
So, naturally, after another fun occasion, there will be a third successive summer showdown, right? Perhaps not.
Cooperation and overlap between MLS and Liga MX has been a running theme for a couple of years, and it only figures to grow in the run-up to the 2026 World Cup. The expanded Leagues Cup, where both leagues will pause for a month and have its teams play a World Cup-style tournament, commences next summer. Earlier this month, in a noncompetitive sample, over 71,000 showed out at SoFi Stadium to watch the LA Galaxy face Chivas Guadalajara and LAFC play Club América. There will be fan interest, and the real thing will carry more competitive stakes than an MLS All-Star Game—Concacaf Champions League berths and financial incentives are on the line—and it’ll occupy the attention of all three 2026 World Cup host nations for the duration. Between that, the CCL itself and the Campeones Cup (the annual match pitting a Mexican champion vs. the MLS Cup winner), the overlap between the leagues is going to get suddenly saturated. All of which led MLS commissioner Don Garber to insinuate that an All-Star change may be coming again.
“I’m not sure we need that for the All-Star Game,” Garber told ESPN at halftime when asked about whether MLS and Liga MX would lock horns in this environment again. “We’ll see what next year in Washington, D.C., looks like when D.C. United hosts, but I’m not quite sure.”
It’s an interesting and perhaps understandable admission. If TV viewership were a chief factor, there are ways to argue in either direction. The inaugural MLS-Liga MX matchup didn’t register on English-language TV in the U.S. last season, with just 175,000 viewers on FS1. On Spanish-language broadcasts, it was a different story, with Univision/TUDN averaging 1.4 million, a massive number in MLS circles. MLS can of course package that as the second-most watched All-Star Game ever (2017, MLS vs. Real Madrid is No. 1) by saying it had over 1.5 million viewers, but that’s a bit like saying Pelé and you have a combined three World Cup titles. One element of that equation has done all the lifting.
The TV ratings factor may not be so pressing next year anyway, though, with MLS moving into its unique 10-year rights deal with Apple. More conventional TV will still be part of the picture. But with the league growing to 29 teams next season (and eventually 30 teams after that) and looking to simultaneously compete with Liga MX while standing on its own, there’s more than enough in-house talent to revert to an inter-conference, East vs. West showdown that celebrates all MLS has to offer. Reverting to the guest-club format, where a European side on its preseason trip to the U.S. features as the opponent, would still draw eyeballs to the match, although players like Zimmerman may not find it as enjoyable from a competitive standpoint.
Regardless, there’s not going to be a dearth of opportunities for MLS and Liga MX to cross paths in the run-up to 2026 and beyond, and while the last two All-Star Games have been enjoyable, they may have already served their purpose.
“The (2026) World Cup is a transformational opportunity for our league,” Garber said when discussing the expanded Leagues Cup upon its unveiling. “We need programming, we need partnerships and activities so we don’t just wait for it to come. … This tournament will be rocket fuel.”
The All-Star Game as it currently stands may have played a part in helping light the fuse as collaboration between the two leagues reached new levels, it just may not be necessary to continue facilitating it.
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