FOX Soccer Exclusive
Liga MX upheaval injects excitement
The brief Mexican offseason should not foster widespread changes. The players have barely had enough time to take their summer breaks with the Apertura poised to start on Friday. More than a few of the more influential stars will clamor for even that short respite upon their return from Gold Cup duty later this month.
Liga MX – or, as we should say now, Liga BBVA Bancomer – has still crammed a flurry of activity into a short space of time, though. The name has changed in the wake of a sponsorship deal. Christian Benitez, the top scorer for the past three seasons, has finally departed after rampant speculation surrounding his future. The relegated team has purchased its way out of a trip to Ascenso MX. Two more sides have moved around in the league's best attempt to undercut the substantial progress made off the field over the past few years. And the usual chopping and changing revamped rosters and ushered in a cadre of new managers.
Despite all of those alterations, Club América remains the defending champion after a thrilling victory over city rivals Cruz Azul to claim the Clausura title in May. América boss Miguel Herrera – still volunteering to replace José Manuel de la Torre if Chepo leaves his post with the national team – will attempt to become the first manager to retain the championship since Hugo Sánchez led Pumas UNAM to consecutive titles in the 2004 Apertura and the 2005 Clausura. Herrera must embark upon that journey without Benítez after the prolific Ecuador international decided to chase petrodollars in Qatar instead of defend yet another golden boot. Blossoming star Raúl Jiménez – plus recent arrivals Andrés Andrade and Luis Gabriel Rey – will try to fill the void and fuel the push for a repeat.
Cruz Azul leads the pack of potential challengers after falling at the final hurdle a couple of months ago. Most of the scrutiny during the interim period revolved around potential moves – Christian Giménez to El Tri after receiving Mexican citizenship and Teófilo Gutiérrez to Argentine giants River Plate – than concrete occurrences. The departure of oft-used reserve striker Javier Orozco to Santos Laguna also places additional pressure on Mariano Pavone to remain healthy enough to lead the line.
Monterrey and Tigres will battle for supremacy in their city and perhaps pose the most significant threat to the capital-based sides. The arrival of Colombian striker Dorlan Pabón encouraged Los Rayados to ship Aldo de Nigris to Guadalajara. If Pabón and Humberto Suazo can establish a prolific partnership, then the perennial challengers could rebound from an indifferent Clausura and return to the upper reaches of the table. Tigres suffered an unexpected dip in form during the second half of the campaign, but the depth within the ranks – plus the enduring presence of schemer Lucas Lobos – offers hope for a repeat of the torrid stretch cobbled together at the start of the Clausura.
Guadalajara attempted to banish any thought of its recent struggles by splashing the cash on de Nigris to bolster the scant options up front. The target man should benefit from plenty of combination work with Marco Fabián and Rafael Márquez Lugo once they return from Gold Cup duty, but manager Benjamin Galindo will wonder whether his side possesses the defensive solidity and the strength in depth to really mount a genuine postseason challenge.
Club Tijuana expects to return to those lofty heights as Jorge Almiron strives to build upon the foundation left by Antonio Mohamed. Herculez Gómez joined fellow American internationals Edgar Castillo and Joe Corona during the close season in a bid to secure the club's second title in three tournaments. The former Santos Laguna striker will likely serve as the replacement for the Pachuca-bound Duvier Riascos with Almiron expected to retain the counterattacking style that has yielded success since the Xolos' promotion.
Veracruz climbed from the second division through more cynical means by buying its place from promoted side La Piedad during the close season. Established performers Angel Reyna and Luis Tejada will spearhead the Tiburones Rojos' efforts to establish a foothold in the division. Chiapas retained its spot through similarly nefarious actions by purchasing its license from San Luis after previously selling its place to relegated Querétaro.
Most of the other clubs in the division – including Club León, with Mauro Boselli and Elias Hernández acquired to replace the departed Nery Cardozo, and Toluca, which has returning hero José Cardozo as its new manager – made their changes without altering their constitutions. As always, a few of the usual suspects – Morelia, Pumas UNAM, Santos Laguna, Pachuca and Toluca – will hope to rise through the ranks and stake their claims for a place in the Liguilla.
If the interlude between campaigns offers any semblance of the season to come, then the impending upheaval should provide the majority of those sides with a chance to make their mark as the Apertura unfolds.