Luis Bueno
Friday October 24th, 2008

If the cream rises to the top, then there should be little doubt which league is the best in CONCACAF.

As if it were ever really in doubt, the Mexican league is in the midst of proving its superiority over the rest of North and Central America and the Caribbean. With most participating clubs having just one match left in the CONCACAF Champions League group phase, all four Mexican clubs are in line to advance to the knockout rounds.

Pumas, Cruz Azul and Santos Laguna sit atop their respective groups while Atlante is in second place in Group C, three points ahead of third-place Olímpia of Honduras. If form holds, half of the teams in the knockout rounds would be from Mexico and there would be a strong likelihood of an all-Mexican final.

As Mexican clubs dominate their respective neighbors, the league's superiority is evident in several areas. Sure, Mexican clubs are wealthy compared to most of their regional brethren and thus the foreign talent the clubs can lure is top-notch, but Mexican teams are shining through in more areas than their rosters.

Playing in a league as intense and talent-rich as Mexico's has not only helped the Mexican national team become one of the strongest in the Western Hemisphere, it has also nearly ensured success for Mexican clubs when they play in international competitions.

Mexican teams do more than hold their own in the Copa Sudamericana as well in the group stage of the Copa Libertadores. Now, Mexican clubs have their tough league schedules to thank for success against regional foes.

The Mexican league seemingly is always difficult to predict because of the parity that exists. Before the season started, few could have guessed that San Luis, Atlante, Tecos and Tigres would have occupied spots one through fourth in the overall league standings with three-fourths of the season complete.

Even still, all that could change. Clubs like Pachuca, Cruz Azul or Toluca could just as easily rise from third place as they could fall out of playoff contention in a matter of weeks.

"It's not like in Europe where four or five teams have a chance of winning the league," FMF Director of National Teams Guillermo Cantú says. "In Mexico, there are 18 teams with a chance of winning the title."

Consequently, when teams take on competition from outside of Mexico, the high level of play in league matches translates into supremacy over CONCACAF foes.

Whether it's World Cup qualifying or CONCACAF Champions League play, the formula for success is simple: Take care of business at home and things will go well. Mexican teams have been virtually unbeatable in Mexico. Combined, FMF clubs boast a 7-1-2 record.

Only Joe Public has left Mexico with a full three points with a surprise 1-0 victory over Atlante, but the Trinidadians' win only served as motivation for Atlante's visit to the Caribbean nation. Los Potros left Trinidad with a 2-0 victory and atoned for their home setback.

Supposed top-tier competition also has fared poorly in Mexico. Costa Rican power Deportivo Saprissa, one of a few non-Mexican clubs to have won the CONCACAF crown in recent years, left Mexico City with an embarrassing 4-0 loss to Cruz Azul. D.C. United suffered the same fate, losing 2-0 to La Máquina. Olímpia, a respectable Honduran side, failed to score in a 1-0 loss at Atlante. Aside from Joe Public, only the Houston Dynamo and Marathón of Honduras left Mexico with their dignity intact as both sides escaped with emotional draws.

Whether it's at home or on the road, Mexican teams have the ability to score loads of goals. The four Mexican sides in the Champions League have combined to score 36 goals while allowing only 16.

Pumas de la UNAM have displayed the most powerful attack of any club in the tournament. They've scored in each of their five games and have at least three goals in three of their matches. While in league play Pumas have a relatively poor attack -- their 14 goals rank third from the bottom in the Apertura '08 -- they've been unstoppable in cup play.

The Dynamo learned the hard way just how dangerous Pumas' offense can be, surrendering a total of seven goals to the Mexico City side over their two matches in group-stage play. Pumas shredded Houston's defense with a late second-half surge in a 3-1 win at Robertson Stadium on Wednesday.

Santos has also displayed a powerful attack, particularly at home. Los Guerreros won all three of their home games by a combined 9-2.

While three of the four Mexican clubs are scoring at a high rate -- Atlante has just four goals in five games -- their collective defenses have been mostly strong. Atlante have allowed just two goals and account for the stingiest defense in the tournament. Cruz Azul is close behind, surrendering only three goals (La Máquina is even in that department with the Montreal Impact).

Taking care of business on both ends has helped Mexico throttle its competition. The knockout rounds promise to bring clubs on the same caliber together -- after all, Mexican teams will have to play each other at some point.

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