Another Mexican league season is upon us, and while the best league in CONCACAF always brings drama and unpredictability, this season promises to take the suspense to a new level.
And yet the Bicentenario 2010 campaign, which kicks off this weekend, will only be a true season until Week 13. After then, with key elements removed from teams, we'll be left with a watered-down version.
Perhaps then, when the league makes way for the World Cup and Mexico's domestic internationals depart their club teams, the season won't be quite so unpredictable.
And so, instead of looking at which clubs made the biggest offseason acquisitions and which teams are healthy at the start of the season, we must look further down the road to determine the Bicentenario 2010 champion.
Here are the factors to consider:
It's no secret which players will fill the World Cup roster, with Guillermo Ochoa, José de Jesús Corona, Jonny Magallón, Efraín Juárez, Gerardo Torrado and Israel Castro considered locks. Others also in the mix include Aarón Galindo, Pablo Barrera, Francisco Palencia, Miguel Sabah, Juan Carlos Cacho, Óscar Rojas, Néstor Calderón, Carlos Esquivel and José Antonio Castro. Not all of the latter bunch will make it, but some probably will.
Of the locks, the club breakdown is: two players from Cruz Azul (Torrado, Corona), two from Pumas (Juárez, Castro) and one apiece from América (Ochoa) and Chivas (Magallón). Depending on which players perform well in league play and in Mexico's international friendlies, other clubs could be forced to do without some top players. Morelia may part with Sabah,Pachuca might give up Cacho, Toluca could say farewell to Calderón and Esquivel and Pumas may also bid farewell to Palencia and Barrera.
Cruz Azul's goal of reaching a final for the fourth time in five seasons will be difficult without Torrado, their captain, and Corona, their prized goalkeeper. América's Ochoa is a game-changer, and will leave a gaping hole in goal.
Thus, early-season success may be irrelevant come playoff time, as losing talented players will surely affect clubs' postseason hopes. There is a steep chasm in talent between Ochoa and Armando Navarrete; if Ochoa had problems guiding América past the quarterfinal round in the playoffs last season, Navarette will need a monumental effort to achieve what Ochoa couldn't.
The World Cup isn't the only tournament that will test teams' rosters. Up to five teams will compete in the Copa Libertadores; Monterrey and Morelia are through to the group stage, while Chivas and San Luis await in the Round of 16. Estudiantes could increase that number to five if it can beat Peruvian side Juan Aurich in a qualifying series.
América and Puebla each missed out on Copa Libertadores, but not having to log thousands of flight miles and play six extra games could boost their own domestic chances.
To a lesser extent, four other clubs will face distractions. Cruz Azul, Pachuca, Pumas and Toluca are in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals. That tournament might require only two or four extra games and the travel will be minimal compared to the Libertadores, but the extra toll could also prove challenging and taxing on the roster.
Four years ago, a team that lost nothing won everything. Pachuca beat San Luis in an unlikely -- and unwatchable -- final. Los Tuzos' roster advantage came in handy in their semifinal series against Chivas, which lost six players to the 2006 World Cup that season.
While some teams will lose a key player or two, other teams will be unaffected. Santos Laguna has some former internationals in Oswaldo Sánchez, Fernando Arce and Matías Vuoso, but none will likely be in Tri manager Javier Aguirre's mind for South Africa. Atlante and San Luis are other playoff contenders that do not feature clear-cut international player prospects. Pachuca likely won't forfeit much, if anything, to El Tricolor.
Indios and Querétaro have virtually no chance of losing a player, but those are the two worst teams in Mexico, and it would take a complete overhaul of rosters across the league for either to compete.
So what clubs stand to benefit the most from a watered-down league? Many of the clubs that figure to be unaffected are unfortunately not title contenders, but Santos and Puebla each reached the postseason last time around and could gain by others' losses.
Monterrey, though, also won't lose much. Perhaps Aldo de Nigris works his way into the mix, or goalkeeper Jonathan Orozco becomes El Tri's No. 3 keeper -- someone has to fill that void. Los Rayados did lose a star player in Humberto Suazo and will have to face the challenge the Libertadores presents without the Chilean national-teamer.
But los Rayados already proved they can win a tournament in the post-Suazo era, walking away with the InterLiga title. And the club returns all its players from last season exceot Suazo, so the experience is there.
Mostly, though, it's tough to imagine an Ochoa-less América side or a Torrado-less Cruz Azul team competing deep in the postseason. From the rubble of the World Cup roster aftermath, Monterrey should emerge the most talented, experienced club left -- and that might be all it needs to make history.