Making his customary appearances on Sports Radio 810 WHB this morning, Sporting Kansas City defender Graham Zusi reflected on the newest piece of news to emerge from Major League Soccer.
Sporting Kansas City is one of eight clubs slated to compete this summer in Leagues Cup, a marquee international tournament featuring four MLS teams and four LIGA MX sides. The competition will unfold in a single-game, single-elimination format with a quartet of MLS vs. LIGA MX matchups in the quarterfinals. Leagues Cup will be played entirely in the United States, with Sporting set to host a Mexican opponent in the opening round on the week of Aug. 9.
“It’s something I’m excited to be a part of for the first time,” Zusi told Border Patrol hosts Nate Bukaty and Steven St. John. “This club has always taken on challenges by looking at them full steam ahead. As far as we’re concerned, this is just another trophy that we can possibly win. That’s what it’s about in this industry. When we go over our early-season meeting and (discuss) what our goals are at the beginning of the year, there’s one big one at the top and that’s winning trophies.”
MLS representatives in Leagues Cup qualified to participate as the top two finishers from each conference in the 2020 MLS regular season standings that are not scheduled to compete in the 2021 Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League. By that criteria, Sporting, Seattle Sounders FC, Orlando City SC and New York City FC were given the nod.
The four LIGA MX teams will be announced in May at the conclusion of the current 2021 Clausura season, along with other schedule, competition and venue details.
Zusi believes the competition will give Sporting and the rest of MLS the opportunity to prove itself on the international stage, grow the rivalry between the leagues and increase overall interest in the sport across North America.
“Right now, LIGA MX has always kind of had our number in the Concacaf Champions League,” Zusi said. “There are different variables that you can argue give them a bit of an advantage, but you see these MLS teams coming closer and closer to hoisting that trophy. I think it’s a good rivalry that we’re building between the two leagues. It’ll grab the attention of fans and you’ve always heard those rumbling about potentially even merging the leagues at some point.
“I love the buildup of this rivalry and I think it’ll do wonders for the interest of MLS and bringing really quality players to this league. Even in the time I’ve been here, MLS has grown exponentially and it’s easily the fastest growing soccer league in the world in my eyes.”
Zusi has continued to rehab a long-term foot injury in Arizona as Sporting resumes its 2021 preseason, presented by Children’s Mercy. The club will face the Portland Timbers today at 1 p.m. CT in Tucson, Arizona, with live updates of the exhibition available on Twitter at @SKCMatchday.