The knockout stage of the Copa MX is upon us. It should be an exciting time for the clubs involved, who are now just four wins away from a nice piece of silverware for their trophy cabinets. But, as we all know, it is not an exciting time, because seemingly nobody cares about the Copa MX. It is a secondary competition, that of course takes a back seat to the league. That’s not out of the ordinary for a domestic cup, but in Mexico the cup takes less of a back seat and more of a seat outside the theater. Attendance drops, the best players are rested, and interest is minimal.
The Copa MX, for all of its flaws, is not a bad idea by any stretch of the imagination. Here are a few ways that the FMF could improve Mexico’s domestic cup competition:
What do we all love about the FA Cup? The gigantic field of teams from all corners of the country, of course. The current format features most Liga MX and Ascenso teams, but it could have so many more. The Tercera Division is ripe with well over 200 teams that would love the opportunity to play in a tournament alongside fully professional competition. There’s another huge chunk of teams in the Segunda Division that would feel the same way.
Some might argue that it is not feasible for a Tercera Division team to travel all the way across the country to play a single game; if that is the case, then the FMF can simply implement a geography based draw which keeps games somewhat local. The US Open Cup uses this system to prevent amateur teams from having to travel excessive distances for early round matches, and the same system could be used in the new Copa MX if necessary.
2. No Groups
This ties into reason number one. Get rid of the group stage in favor of more single elimination rounds. The group stage benefits only the disinterested Liga MX teams that get a few extra games to play their reserves. Knockout games are exciting, easier to follow, and of course cater better to the hypothetical expanded field. The current group format has three teams per group, which means teams will often have a game in hand, and the permutations can be difficult to keep track of for a casual fan. A knockout game is simple to understand: win or go home.
3. Reward the Winners
This is one thing that the cup actually has done properly in the past. In order to get people invested into the Copa MX, the FMF put their third Copa Libertadores spot up for grabs in the SuperCopa MX. This was a brilliant idea that was foiled by the Mexican exit from the competition for 2017. Certainly, when Mexico regains their spot in the Libertadores this rule should be reinstated, but for the time being, a different reward should be offered. Perhaps Mexico should give the winner a CCL spot, again mirroring the US Open Cup.
4. One Copa per Season
Many Liga MX fans argue that the Apertura/Clausura system dilutes championships somewhat, since there are two winners each year. Imagine how those fans must feel about the Copa MX, which dilutes an already meaningless championship into an even more meaningless one. The FMF should axe the SuperCopa altogether, and instead run the Copa MX from August to March. Start the preliminary rounds nice and early, with the Liga MX teams entering sometime around the New Year, and have the whole thing wrapped up in March so as to avoid conflict with the league playoffs or the last few games of the regular season.
When you combine all of these plans, what do you get? We’ve mapped out how this new Copa MX would function below. Obviously the numbers are going to rotate from year to year (and we’ve rounded them for convenience this time), but this is roughly how the tournament would play out:
Tercera Division teams enter in August, and are joined by Segunda Division entrants in September. In the third round, which will take place in November, the 74 survivors are mixed in with the 18 Ascenso MX teams. The fourth round introduces the Liga MX teams in mid-January, putting the field at an even 64 teams. From here, things are self-explanatory.
These changes would, in my opinion, give the Copa MX some juice and get more fans interested in the games. It’s not as simple as it looks, as some questions (such as what to do with the ‘filiales’) are not answered by this model, but it is a good starting point for discussion.