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Atlanta United draw D.C. United and Santos Laguna for Leagues Cup 2024

Some fans love it. Some fans hate it. The month-long spectacle is back with new changes and begins on July 26.

SOCCER: JUN 30 MLS - Atlanta United at New York Red Bulls Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Atlanta United on Wednesday learned its draw for the 2024 Leagues Cup, having been paired to face D.C. United and Club Santos Laguna.

After the embarrassing performances vs. Inter Miami and Cruz Azul in last year’s tournament, Atlanta are looking to make it out of the group stage for the first time. On paper, its chances seem to be improved. D.C United, who finished 12th in the Eastern Conference and 23rd in the Supporters Shield in 2023, parted ways with coach Wayne Rooney in the offseason and are betting on former New Mexico United and New York Red Bulls interim head coach Troy Lesesne to turn their club’s fortunes around. Santos Laguna finished 9th in the Liga MX Apertura season and are currently 11th in the Liga MX Clausura after 4 games.

Along with Atlanta improving their squad this offseason, fans, players, and management will be expecting United to finish top of the group. However, the Summer Olympic Games in France last from July 24 to August 10 and interfere with the tournament, which runs from July 26 to August 25. This means that Thiago Almada, Caleb Wiley, and possibly Edwin Mosquera would miss the group stage at the very least, with their results for their countries determining how many games they could miss in the knockout rounds. Atlanta’s play could be severely affected by their absence, especially Almada’s (if he hasn’t been sold during the summer transfer window).

This year’s tournament, the 2nd since its major expansion to include all Liga MX and MLS teams and its 6th overall, comes with major changes to the group stage of the competition. Instead of 4 regional grids of Central, South, East, and West, there will only be East and West grids with 7 and 8 groups (respectively). Teams were assigned into groups by a new ranking system in which all MLS and Liga MX teams were ranked based on the results of their last 34 regular-season games in 2023 and split into 3 tiers — 1-15, 16-30, and 31-45 — with Atlanta United in tier 1 as the 15 seed and one team from each tier placed into each group. The specific teams in each group were decided on by the leagues, who prioritized geographical and competitive balance when making their decisions.

The full groups are listed below:

West

  • West 1: CF Monterrey, Pumas UNAM, Austin FC
  • West 2: Chivas de Guadalajara, San Jose Earthquakes, LA Galaxy
  • West 3: St. Louis CITY SC, FC Dallas, FC Juárez
  • West 4: Toluca FC, Sporting Kansas City, Chicago Fire FC
  • West 5: Club León, Portland Timbers, Colorado Rapids
  • West 6: Seattle Sounders FC, Minnesota United FC, Club Necaxa
  • West 7: LAFC, Vancouver Whitecaps FC, Club Tijuana
  • West 8: Houston Dynamo FC, Real Salt Lake, Atlas FC

East

  • East 1: FC Cincinnati, New York City FC, Querétaro FC
  • East 2: Orlando City SC, Atlético de San Luis, CF Montréal
  • East 3: Tigres UANL, Puebla, Inter Miami CF
  • East 4: Philadelphia Union, Charlotte FC, Cruz Azul
  • East 5: New England Revolution, Nashville SC, Mazatlán FC
  • East 6: Pachuca, New York Red Bulls, Toronto FC
  • East 7: Atlanta United, Santos Laguna, D.C. United

Just like last year, the top 2 teams in each group advance to the Round of 32. And like last year, there are no ties in the group stage with matches level after 90 minutes going straight to penalties. MLS Cup champions Columbus Crew and Liga MX “champion” (most accumulated points across both the 2023 Clausura and Apertura seasons) Club America receive a bye into the knockout rounds, with the top 3 teams in the tournament qualifying for the CONCACAF Champions Cup (formerly Champions League).

Along with the changes to the group stage, the other major rule change this year is the Liga MX hub rule. The Leagues Cup is held only in the United States, but to give some feel of home-field advantage, the top 4 Liga MX teams (champion and top 3 in the ranking system) gain hub cities and get to “host” all of their games up until a certain time in the tournament. The teams with hubs are listed below, along with the last round they could play at the hub location:

  • Semifinals: Club América (League champion with a bye)
  • Round of 16: CF Monterrey (No. 1 rank)
  • Round of 32: Chivas de Guadalajara (No. 4 rank)
  • Group Stage: Tigres UANL (No. 6 rank)

For clarification, these hub cities will be somewhere in the United States and are yet to be announced. While it helps with congested travel schedules, this move does not bring fans a step closer to seeing the Leagues Cup played in Mexico.

All Leagues Cup matches will be available on MLS Season Pass on Apple TV. Select games will be on TelevisaUnivision, TV Azteca, FS1, TSN, and RDS. The dates and times of the group stage matches have yet to be announced. To buy tickets when they are announced, you can go to LeaguesCup.com or atlutd.com.