Atlas, Tijuana serve up treat
Low expectations surrounded the first Friday night of the Liga Bancomer MX season. Morelia brushed aside Querétaro in the season opener. The nightcap between Atlas and Club Tijuana hardly looked like the sort of match capable of rectifying matters.
Both teams entered the opening weekend of the Apertura with considerable questions to answer. Atlas commenced the campaign with pervasive financial problems crippling the squad and influential forward Omar Bravo unavailable through injury. Tijuana took the field for the first time under new boss Jorge Almiron without American internationals Edgar Castillo (Gold Cup duty), Joe Corona (Gold Cup duty) and Herculez Gomez (knee injury).
Although the absences and the rampant uncertainty about the subsequent alterations could have dampened the match, it instead turned the affair into a spectacle. The eventual 3-3 draw provided a glimpse into the magic of this league from week to week and supplied an early contender for match of the season.
Most of the inspiration derived from a pair of dissimilar figures and the occasional ineptitude of others. Atlas veteran Matias Vuoso and Tijuana newcomer Dario Benedetto shared the match ball for their exploits on the evening as they exerted their influence throughout a game in need of a little guidance.
Benedetto laid down the gauntlet inside the first 18 minutes. The former Arsenal de Sarandi forward received ample help from some shoddy Atlas defending to open his Xolos account. Alan López abetted Benedetto's opener by straying off his line. Facundo Erpen – known to drop a clanger or two during his time with D.C. United – facilitated the second with a wretched backwards header that Benedetto intercepted and subsequently deposited past Lopez.
Vuoso eventually threw his team a modest lifeline when he converted from the spot on the half-hour, but the home side should have seen the match out after Benedetto collected a clever side-footed feed from Paul Arriola (a former LA Galaxy academy player making his first-team debut) halfway through the second stanza.
The goal only paved the way for further drama as former Manchester City and Mexico striker Vuoso lifted his team to a point. His second goal came through a stunning overhead kick 17 yards from goal, an acrobatic effort that left Adrian Zermeño with no chance to prevent it. He then capped his display by conjuring the patience to elude his man and square for Edson Rivera to snatch the equalizer six minutes from time.
In the absence of a quartet of notable clubs from the opening weekend (more on that bit in a moment), these two plucky sides produced an entertaining match that reinforced the best this league has to offer. On any given night, a volatile potion of skill and suspect decisions can produce compelling theater. This sort of entertainment may not emerge again during the season for either side, but its arrival on this occasion ensured the opening night of the Apertura concluded with the panache it deserved.
Around Liga MX – Jornada 1
Four teams watched the action unfold from the sidelines this weekend due to CONCACAF Gold Cup commitments. The inclusion of several Club América and C.D. Guadalajara stars in José Manuel de la Torre's squad for the tournament prompted the league to postpone two fixtures over the weekend. The reasonable decision removed two top matches (América – Tigres, Chivas – Santos Laguna) from the slate and shifted some of the attention toward peculiarities elsewhere.
Querétaro engineered a cynical reprieve from the drop by purchasing the license previously held by Jaguares during the close season. As a reward for its largesse, Gallos Blancos hosted Morelia in the first fixture of the season. The half-empty stands at La Corregidora and the meek 3-1 defeat to start the campaign raise questions about whether the money to earn that escape from Ascenso MX will prove well spent.
Cruz Azul restrained its own spending habits to maintain the faith in the side that fell at the final Liguilla hurdle at Estadio Azteca in May. La Máquina received a pair of penalty awards to usher in the new season against Monterrey. Mariano Pavone missed the first one, but Rogelio Chávez converted early in the second half to secure the 1-0 victory. Not even a typical display of impudence from Gerardo Torrado could step Guillermo Vázquez's 10-man side from claiming the points.
Toluca hero José Cardozo returned to La Bombonera with a whimper. The former Red Devils star left Copa Libertadores finalists Olimpia in May to return to Mexico. His team failed to validate that risky decision in the opener as Othoniel Arce struck in the final quarter of an hour to give revamped Pachuca all three points away from home.
RESULTS: Querétaro 1 – Morelia 3, Club Tijuana 3 – Atlas 3 (Friday); Cruz Azul 1 – Monterrey 0, Veracruz 2 – Chiapas 2, Club León 1 – Atlante 0 (Saturday); Puebla 1 – Pumas UNAM 1, Toluca 0 – Pachuca 1 (Sunday)