The Colorado Rapids will kick off their inaugural Leagues Cup campaign this Sunday, July 23, as they face Nashville SC at Geodis Park in their opening group stage match (6:30 p.m. MT; Apple TV – Free, Altitude Sports Radio 92.5 FM).
Leagues Cup 2023 is an official, World Cup-style tournament debuting this season between all 47 teams from Major League Soccer and Mexico’s Liga MX. Both leagues will suspend play from July 16 through August 19 for League Cup play, which kicks off on Friday, July 21. The Leagues Cup winner will earn an automatic spot in the 2024 Concacaf Champions Cup Round of 16, while the second and third place clubs will also earn qualification to the intercontinental tournament.
The 29 MLS and 18 Liga MX clubs are divided into 15 groups in four regions: East, Central, South and West, with Colorado joined by Nashville and Deportivo Toluca FC in Central 4. The top two finishing teams from each group will advance to the single-elimination knockout rounds, which start Aug. 2. In a unique twist to the tournament format, Leagues Cup will not feature any draws in the group stage. Instead, if any group stage match is tied after the initial 90 minutes, the game will go directly into a penalty shootout. Both teams, irrespective of the shootout result, will earn a point, with the winner of the shootout earning an additional point (two total).
Nashville SC head into Sunday’s match on a three-game losing streak in MLS play, losing five of their last six games. Their 3-1 defeat to FC Cincinnati last Saturday marked the first time in franchise history the team has lost three consecutive league matches. Despite their recent form, Nashville's defense has been formidable throughout the season, allowing the fewest goals in MLS with just 22 scored against them. At Geodis Park, Nashville has only conceded eight goals, which is tied for the fourth-fewest goals conceded at home in MLS. Nashville has lost only two matches at home this season, including a 2-0 loss to the Philadelphia Union in their most recent match at Geodis Park. Reigning Landon Donovan MVP Award winner Hany Mukhtar leads the league in goals with 13 scored while tied for sixth-most assists in the league with eight. The club’s second-highest goal scorer is midfielder Fafà Picaul, who has four goals.
The Rapids head to Tennessee on a three-game unbeaten stretch in league play, including a scoreless draw to a visiting Houston Dynamo FC on Saturday. Although, they have struggled offensively in the absence of club captain Jack Price (season-ending Achilles injury) and 2022 top scorer Diego Rubio (has not played since May 13 due to various injuries), the Rapids have shown solidity on the defensive end in recent weeks. Since the start of June, the Rapids have shutout four of their last seven opponents, while their 30 goals against in 2023 are tied for fifth fewest in the Western Conference. Goalkeeper William Yarbrough recorded his seventh clean sheet of the year against Houston, which is currently tied for fifth-most in MLS.
Sunday’s match brings an added layer of rivalry, as Nashville is led by former Rapids head coach Gary Smith who won the 2010 MLS Cup with the side. He’s joined on the club’s technical staff by other familiar faces to long-time Rapids fans: Nashville assistant coach Steve Guppy served as the assistant coach of the Rapids from 2009 to 2012; Nashville assistant coach Kosuke Kimura was drafted by Colorado in the 2007 MLS Supplemental Draft, going on to make 117 appearances for the club from 2007 to 2012; Nashville goalkeeper coach Matt Pickens played for Colorado from 2009 to 2014 and currently holds the club records most wins by a goalkeeper (41), most minutes played by a goalkeeper (10,336) and most starts and appearances by a goalkeeper (116).