It seems like it was only yesterday that Antonio Mohamed's Monterrey won Liga MX’s Apertura title by overcoming Club America on penalties to conclude a wild two-legged final. That's because in actuality, Los Rayados lifted the trophy less than two weeks ago and already Liga MX is resuming as the league’s Clausura campaign kicks off on Friday.
Given the unpredictable outcome of last month’s Apertura’s playoffs, where the semifinals where filled by the bottom four seeds (Necaxa, America, Morelia and Monterrey) a busy transfer period of noteworthy comings and goings and significant structural changes, the Clausura tournament promises to be filled with excitement.
Here are three things to watch out for as the season kicks off on Friday night:
Outgoing stars and their replacements
Plenty of the league's finest and most influential players have gone to MLS. Alan Pulido left Chivas Guadalajara and is now leading the line for Sporting Kansas City, while Peruvian Edison Flores is reportedly nearing a record-breaking move to D.C. United and veteran Tigres playmaker Lucas Zelarayan has landed with the Columbus Crew.
Add in the fact that Inter Miami is reportedly interested in America’s Roger Martinez while his teammate, the creative Guido Rodriguez, is wanted by Real Betis, and a theme has begun to surface: Liga MX’s popularity is growing, mainly thanks to its product, which is filled with Latin American talent that could be had at a reasonable price. With MLS clubs willing to offer more money, the temptation may be too much to turn down for players. But that’s not to say Liga MX teams are not doing any business of their own.
As Flores gets set to arrive in the U.S. capital, Luciano Acosta goes the other way having signed with Atlas, while Man City’s Uriel Antuna, fresh from a loan stint with the LA Galaxy, joins Chivas. Other notable transfers include veteran Chilean playmaker Jorge “El Mago” Valdivia joining Morelia from Colo-Colo, and Uruguayan No. 10 Pablo Ceppelini, who arrives from Atletico Nacional and will play a major role for Cruz Azul.
All in all, despite the departures, Liga MX clubs continue to do business with South American clubs as they look to replace outgoing quality with incoming quality.
Chivas looks ahead to a new era with a new plan
The last few years have been a rollercoaster for the all-Mexican club, and since Matias Almeyda’s exit, things have not been rosy. Since winning the 2017 Clausura title with “Pelado," the club has failed to appear in the playoffs, and aside from Pulido leading the league in goals, last season was another campaign to forget. Now, under new sporting director Ricardo Pelaez (a former Chivas player), things are looking up.
“We're going to be f---ing champions!” Pelaez said ahead of the team’s first preseason game, citing huge ambitions for the club, which is second behind Club America for most titles in Mexico.
“We only have one less title than America and the goal is not only to tie them but to surpass them as quickly as possible,” he said in a press conference this week. “We want to be the team to beat every [season], that’s where Chivas should be. Those are our objectives as long as I am here, and hopefully we can achieve them with the help of our fans.”
Talk has been met with direct action, as Pelaez, with the backing of club president Amaury Vergara, spent more than $40 million in players including Antuna, Victor Guzman, Jesus Angulo, Alexis Peña, Cristian Calderon and Jose Madueña.
The biggest question is up top. With Pulido gone, the era of J.J Macias has been ushered in. Macias is a rising star in Mexican football, who returns to the club after playing on loan for Leon last season. At 20, Macias earned his first cap for Mexico in October and already has four goals in five matches. His overall target is to play in Europe, so aside from winning a trophy and continuing his development with the national team, he needs little motivation to impress. Macias will lead a young Chivas side that promises to thrill this season and should earn a playoff spot.
Ultimately, Chivas fans hope that their youthful team can overcome lack of experience with will, cohesion and perseverance.
The race to be scoring king
Pulido may be gone, but there are plenty of other suitors that could top the scoring charts. First, let’s address the obvious candidates: There’s Necaxa’s Mauro Quiroga (who matched Pulido in the regular season with 12 goals) and the aging but consistent Andre-Pierre Gignac, who, despite being 34, still managed 10 goals before the playoffs and should continue to deliver for Tuca Ferretti and Tigres.
Also with 10 goals in the last regular season was Monterrey’s influential striker Rogelio Funes Mori. Macias, who scored eight for Leon, clearly can’t be forgotten either given his new role at Chivas. But a player who also can’t be ignored is Uruguayan Brian Lozano, who ended with eight goals and six assists, helping Santos Laguna top the table at the end of the regular season.
Lozano is a multidimensional attacking player, and as he showed in the Apertura, the Uruguayan can score from practically anywhere on the pitch. As he turns 26 next month, Lozano enters his prime and, amid rumors of MLS interest, looks to use this Clausura campaign to not only help Santos Laguna win the title once again (Santos was Clausura champion in 2018) but also further implement himself in the Uruguayan national team setup.