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Reports: Liga MX and MLS getting close to confirming inter-league tournament

Indeed, it has already been scheduled, says the president of Liga MX club Atlas.

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Per reports out of Mexico, Atlas president Gustavo Guzman has confirmed that Liga MX and MLS have reached an agreement on the structure and schedule of an inter-league tournament.

"It is already scheduled. I do not remember the date," Guzman told reporters, also confirming that the Liga MX representation has already been decided. "Teams that had won the right to go to Copa Libertadores" have been penciled in for the tournament, per Guzman, plus the winner of the 2016-17 Supercopa MX.

The Mexican season has a tendency to produce two of everything: two league champions - one in the Apertura and one in the Clausura - and two Copa MX winners. The Supercopa MX pits the season's two Copa MX title-holders against each other. This year's will feature Queretaro and Chivas, and will be played on July 16, 2017.

As noted in the reports on Guzman's comments, the three teams already qualified for the Copa Libertadores were America, Tijuana, and Chivas - so it would appear Queretaro is probably heading into the LigaMX/MLS tournament whether it wins or loses in July. It is also reported Guzman said the structure of the new tournament will be presented to Liga MX owners at their Assembly meeting prior to the 2017 Clausura final. This suggests that the new competition's structure, schedule, and Liga MX competitors will all be wrapped up by mid-July.

Per Guzman's reported comments, the withdrawal of Liga MX clubs from Copa Libertadores is the motivation for the new competition from the Mexican side of the border: "I know that CONCACAF does not compare to CONMEBOL, but that is our reality".

Mexican clubs are not in Copa Libertadores this year because a change to the format of that tournament, shifting to a January-November schedule that Liga MX could not abide. Unable to reach agreement with CONMEBOL, the Mexico Football Federation, FMF, withdrew its teams from the tournament.

At the time Liga MX's exit from Copa Libertadores was announced last November, Mexican soccer executives were speaking simultaneously about a possible return in future - perhaps as soon as 2018 - and shifting focus to other matters, such as some sort of collaboration with MLS.

So it's not entirely clear whether - at least from the Mexican perspective - the new tournament with MLS is just a stop-gap solution designed to bridge a short-term gap in revenue and fixtures before Liga MX teams return to Copa Libertadores, or a long-term commitment to an inter-league competition with American (and perhaps Canadian) clubs.

There has been chatter about this tournament from the north side of the USA-Mexico border as well. Back in March, it was reported discussions had foundered on questions of scheduling and format - Guzman's comments suggests those questions are resolved or at least nearing resolution.

If Mexico is sending four teams, assume MLS is sending four as well. If Mexico will finalize format questions by the end of May and its final qualifier will be decided by mid-July: we could be looking at a tournament that fits into the August-October space that used to be occupied by the CONCACAF Champions League group stage.

How MLS picks its representation at the competition is an open question. It could use pretty much any mechanism it wants. Not-already-qualified for CCL is a tried-and-tested approach, but if this tournament doesn't clash with CCL it may not be necessary. Supporters of teams that have yet to announce any plans for summer friendlies - teams like the New York Red Bulls, for example - might be curious as to whether their club is quietly sitting on news that it will be competing in a new cross-border tournament later this year.

On both sides of the border, the challenge for the competition will be to avoid the fate of SuperLiga, a short-lived LigaMX-MLS tournament that seemed to have proven that games between D1 clubs from the USA and Mexico purely for the sake of it was not in itself a compelling proposition.

The real significance of Guzman's reported comments is that discussions are far enough advanced that we should expect answers soon to the question of whether, when, and how this potential cross-border cup will be played.