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NYCFC to face Liga MX champs Atlas FC in Campiones Cup

Silverware is nice, but is it a contest worth winning?

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The Campiones Cup looks like it could hold many, many breadsticks.
Courtesy CampionesCup.com

Yesterday, it was announced that New York City FC will face Atlas FC in the Campiones Cup, an annual contest between the winner of the MLS Cup against the champions of Liga MX. The match will be held on Wednesday, September 14 at Yankee Stadium. Tickets are available now.

The Campiones Cup dates to 2018, and it has been held just three times. The cup reportedly awards a purse of more than $340,000 to the winner (no figure is officially acknowledged), but it is arguably the least important piece of silverware an MLS team can aspire to win, trailing the MLS Cup, the Supporters’ Shield, the CONCACAF Champion’s League, and the US Open Cup in bragging rights: You don’t hear Columbus Crew supporters singing about their 2-0 win over Cruz Azul last year.

It’s not because the cup is young, but because fans don’t care that much about it. The Europa Conference League was held for the first time this year, and it energized supporters who were excited that their teams could face other European clubs in a legitimately hard-fought contest. Stadiums were packed, some good soccer was played, and Roma won a cup that might not carry the same weight as the Europa League or the Champions League, but that still has meaning for the club. As New York Times soccer correspondent Rory Smith has explained in interviews, a tournament is ultimately successful only if fans buy into the contest: A cup is important if the street says it’s important.

Which brings us to our first poll: Do you think the Campiones Cup is important?

Poll

Do you buy into the Campiones Cup?

This poll is closed

  • 64%
    Yes
    (57 votes)
  • 35%
    No
    (32 votes)
89 votes total Vote Now

The date for the 2021 Campiones Cup will fall between NYCFC’s Matchday 31 and Matchday 32, at the end of the MLS season. It’s usually a tense period when teams are jockeying for playoff positions. Last year, NYCFC had fallen below the playoff line on Matchday 29: Gudi Thórarinsson’s 90th-minute free-kick against Atlanta United on Matchday 30 earned a vital draw for New York City, then wins on Matchdays 31, 32, and 33 sealed the team’s spot in the playoffs.

Not only does the Campions Cup take play during an important part of the season, it will be held in the middle of a spectacularly congested run of games. Starting the last week of August, NYCFC will have MLS league games every weekend and midweek for two weeks straight — the Campiones Cup will make it three weeks in a row. To slice the numbers another way, NYCFC will play seven matches in 21 days, with all but the first game on short rest.

It might become even more congested: The final of the US Open Cup will be held midweek in early September at a date to be determined later.

One more thing — the Campiones Cup will be held three days before NYCFC host New Jersey Red Bulls at Yankee Soccer Stadium in the Hudson River Derby.

Squad rotation will only go so far, and Manager Ronny Deila will need to prioritize some games over others: Expect to see some NYCFC II players on the Senior Team. That brings us to our second poll: Come September, what contest should NYCFC put above all others?

Poll

Which should NYCFC put first?

This poll is closed

  • 65%
    Supporters’ Shield/MLS league games
    (48 votes)
  • 4%
    Hudson River Derby
    (3 votes)
  • 8%
    Campiones Cup
    (6 votes)
  • 21%
    US Open Cup
    (16 votes)
73 votes total Vote Now

NYCFC have performed exceptionally well in recent weeks, extending an unbeaten streak to 11 games in all contests including a midweek draw in the CONCACAF Champions League and two midweek wins in the US Open Cup, but you can't expect the club to be able to sustain this run of form for the entire season, especially if the Supporters’ Shield, the US Open Cup, the Campiones Cup, and the Hudson River Derby are on the line.

Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it: Four days after Columbus Crew defeated Cruz Azul in the 2021 Campiones Cup on September 29 they lost to Philadelphia Union. Columbus finished the year in ninth place, one point off of a playoff spot. The poor showing had more to do with a terrible midsummer run of form, but they dropped eight points after playing Cruz Azul — one more win and they would have taken New Jersey’s place in the postseason.