LEAGUES CUP 2023
Players to watch in Leagues Cup 2023: Messi, Chicharito, Vela, Busquets, Vega...
All eyes are on Inter Miami’s Lionel Messi as 18 Liga MX clubs and 29 MLS teams gear up for the Leagues Cup.
It’s all go in the world of soccer this week. Just a day after the Women’s World Cup 2023 gets underway in Australia and New Zealand, it will be time for the brand new Leagues Cup, which will see all 18 Liga MX clubs and 29 MLS teams compete to become the best club side in Concacaf (or something like that).
The competition could go some way to settling the long-standing debate about which league is stronger at present, although there can be little doubt that Mexico’s finest will have been casting envious glances across the border in recent weeks with Lionel Messi making the move to David Beckham’s Inter Miami after his contract at Paris Saint-Germain came to an end.
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Leagues Cup ones to watch
The Argentine is expected to make his Herons debut in the Leagues Cup, but which other players should we expect to make their mark on the tournament over the next month or so?
Lionel Messi (Inter Miami)
We can’t start with anyone else. Since Messi announced that he would be joining Inter Miami in June, the opening Leagues Cup clash against Cruz Azul on Friday 21 July has been pencilled in for his first appearance. Beckham all but confirmed that would be the case, much to the relief of everyone who splashed out a fortune for tickets. While he may not be fully match fit, every time Messi steps on a soccer field, we expect several moments of brilliance. And given how badly the Herons have performed this season, they’ll need them.
Sergio Busquets (Inter Miami)
As if signing Messi wasn’t enough, Inter Miami have also snapped up his old Barcelona teammate Sergio Busquets (with Jordi Alba also on the way). The ex-Spanish international might not have hogged the headlines anywhere near as much as the Argentine in that iconic Barça side, yet he is considered to be one of the best midfielders of his generation and will still be capable of dictating the tempo of games. The Florida side can surely only improve…
Carlos Vela (LAFC)
Since joining LAFC from Real Sociedad in 2018, there is a strong argument to say that former Mexico international Vela has been MLS’ stand-out player. Blessed with superb technique and vision, he has averaged more than a goal every two games in the United States, including finding the net 38 times in the 2019 season. On an individual level, Vela has been an MLS All-Star three times, been named in the MLS Best XI three times and won the league’s Golden Boot and MVP Award in 2019. Collectively, he’s led LAFC to the Supporters’ Shield in 2019 and 2022, the year in which he also won his first MLS Cup.
Hany Mukhtar (SC Nasvhille)
German Mukhtar has quite simply been the MLS’ most lethal marksman over the last few years. The Nashville SC number 10 has scored 13 league goals in 2023, more than any other player, hit 23 last season, more than any other player, and 16 in 2021, just three behind the leading MLS goalscorer in his first full season in the division. After joining the league in 2020, Nashville have reached the MLS Cup Playoffs each year and Mukhtar has played a huge role in their success.
Henry Martín (Club América)
Martín comes into the tournament on a high having lifted the Gold Cup with Mexico, a tournament in which he netted twice. After a very disappointing 2021/22 season, in which he scored only six goals, the striker bounced back superbly last term, finding the net 27 times in 42 appearances in the Apertura 2022 and Clausura 2023. As a result, Martín was named the league’s Best Forward and won the Balón de Oro for being the best player in the division.
Alexis Vega (Chivas)
Vega is a goal provider for Chivas as much as he is a goal scorer, and is just as likely to pop up out on the flanks as he is in front of goal. A key part of his team’s attack due to his intelligent link-up play, he missed long spells of action due to injury but returned to lead Guadalajara to the Liga MX Clausura 2023 final, where they lost to Tigers.
André-Pierre Gignac (Tigres)
Gignac is now 37-years-old but still knows where the goal is. His 20 goals in 2022/23 fired Tigres to the Clausura 2023 title and surpassed his tally from each of the two previous seasons. Since moving to Mexico in 2015, the Frenchman has scored 187 times in 341 matches for his club. Gignac’s displays could come under extra scrutiny because of his comments that Liga MX is better than MLS, which is just “pure marketing”.
Chicharito misses out with knee injury
Expecting to see Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernández on the list? Well, he would’ve been on it were he not still on the mend after undergoing knee surgery. The former Manchester United and Real Madrid striker isn’t expected to play for LA Galaxy again in 2023.