Liga MX helping USA develop new stars
United States manager Jurgen Klinsmann provided six reasons for American fans to follow the Mexican First Division — now called Liga MX — when he named his squad for last week's stunning 1-0 victory over Mexico at Estadio Azteca.
Klinsmann leaned on a significant group of Mexican-based players to guide his side to that famous first victory at the Azteca: Michael Orozco Fiscal claimed much of the glory as he bundled home the winner ten minutes from time, but all five of his Liga MX colleagues – DaMarcus Beasley, Edgar Castillo, Joe Corona, Herculez Gómez and José Francisco Torres – featured at some stage and played their part in the historic win.
The presence of those six players and several other Americans south of the border highlights the importance of Liga MX to the US efforts moving forward. It also provides more than enough inspiration to follow a league regarded as one of the best outside of Europe.
Although the Mexican top flight started its season last month, there is plenty of time to catch up on the proceedings. Right now, it’s wide open: a number of clubs could secure the title at the end of the campaign. In order to ease the transition into Liga MX, FOX Soccer answers a few questions in this primer to introduce the league:
Where do we stand at the moment?
Liga MX splits the traditional season into two tournaments: the Apertura (or “opening” tournament, running from July to December) and the Clausura (or “closing” tournament, running from January to May). The 18 involved clubs play each other once to form the 17-game league slate. The top eight finishers compete in the playoffs (Liguilla) to determine the champion in each tournament. In addition, one club is relegated to the promotion league (Liga de Ascenso MX) after every season based on a points-per-game formula encompassing the previous four tournaments. This may sound confusing – and it is – but we’ll keep you abreast of the race at the bottom all season long.
The 2012 Apertura campaign kicked off on July 20. Toluca currently enjoys a five-point lead at the top of the table after winning all five of their matches to date. Current champions, Santos Laguna, sit in the middle of the pack after a mediocre start to the season.
Which teams are worth monitoring?
Most of the attention usually swirls around Liga MX's two biggest clubs: C.D. Guadalajara and Mexico City-based Club América. América plays its home matches at Estadio Azteca and has used the ample resources provided by owners Televisa to compile an expensive squad. Guadalajara – better known as Chivas – employs a different approach by restricting its team to players with Mexican heritage. The two teams also share a rivalry called “El Súper Clásico.”
While those two teams dominate the headlines, other sides collect trophies at a more frequent rate. Santos Laguna boasts the most consistent record of success as of late with the 2012 Clausura title in the trophy case and four other finals appearances in the past five seasons. Monterrey claims the highest international profile with two consecutive CONCACAF Champions League triumphs and an appearance in the 2011 FIFA Club World Cup on its ledger. Tigres UANL, Toluca and UNAM Pumas have all won titles in the past five tournaments to underscore the competitive nature of the league.
If someone asks me about Liga MX, which names should I drop?
Start with a couple of key figures from the under-23 squad that recently won gold at the Olympics in London. Former Fulham and PSV defender Carlos Salcido (Tigres) featured as one of three over-age selections to the team and remains a key figure in the national team setup. Exciting prospects Marco Fábian (Chivas) and Elías Hernández (Tigres) could soon join Salcido in the full team on a more permanent basis and perhaps seal a move to Europe in the process. Foreign clubs have also expressed interest in taking midfielder Héctor Herrera (Pachuca) and over-age striker Oribe Peralta (Santos Laguna) overseas since the Olympics concluded.
Even if some of those players depart, Liga MX will still boast plenty of stars. Monterrey striker Humberto Suazo rates among the top finishers in the Americas based on his exploits in Mexico and with the Chilean national team. Club teammate and Mexican international Aldo Di Nigris and Ecuador international forward Christian Benítez (América) aren't too far behind in that particular pecking order. Mexico regulars Pablo Barrera (Cruz Azul) and Efraín Juárez (América) recently returned from Europe to add to the significant delegation of domestic-based players in José Manuel “Chepo” de la Torre's squad. Former captain and stalwart Gerardo Torrado remains as combative as ever in the center of the park for Cruz Azul.
How are the Yanks doing?
As Klinsmann's faith in this particular group of players suggests, they are doing pretty well indeed. Gómez (Santos Laguna) heads the delegation by supplying a regular stream of goals for his successful club side. Experienced winger Beasley continues to play an integral role for Puebla despite the club's financial problems. Orozco-Fiscal merits a regular starting berth in defense for San Luis. Castillo and Corona ply their trade for Club Tijuana, the wonderfully dubbed “Xolos” (a nickname plucked from the small hairless dogs endemic to Mexico). Torres (Pachuca) completes the contingent, though the midfield schemer has started just three of five matches this season for his club side.
Several other players – including former US international Jonathan Bornstein (Tigres) and Greg Garza (Club Tijuana) – will hope to emerge from the reserves to claim more regular match action and nab a place on Klinsmann's radar in the near future.