Liga MX’s Clausura season enters its fourth matchday this weekend, and one thing is for certain: the league’s pace and physicality is already in full effect. It’s always been clear that Mexico’s top division is a relentless, high-octane beast, and every weekend, teams in the league fight like no one else in the Americas. For Brian Lozano, Santos Laguna’s Uruguayan star, that especially rings true.
“Liga MX is a very, very strong, physical league. It’s not easy. It takes a lot out of you,” Lozano told SI.com. “When I came here [first with Club America] it really was hard to adjust. It took time for me to reach a certain level. This is a challenging league that demands a lot of you. I can tell you that it’s easier to play in South America than Mexico. 100%.”
Quite simply, if you want to play in Mexico, you better know how to fight, and that’s exactly what Santos Laguna is currently doing as it gets ready to face league leader Pumas for a second time this week. Santos fell in the second leg of their Copa MX series on Wednesday, but advanced 5-4 on aggregate to secure the club's place in the quarterfinals.
Its league fortunes have been a different story so far, as Santos finds itself in 15th place after a win and two losses to start the campaign. Lozano knows that it’s a long season where twists and turns are inevitable, and given the way the club ended the Apertura season–a first-place finish followed by a first-round playoff exit to eventual champion Monterrey–more fight and focus are needed.
“We did a great season in the Apertura, topping the regular season, but after getting knocked out in the Liguilla, we didn’t show what we could do, so we want to go back and come stronger and repeat what we did in 2018 [winning that year’s Clausura],” Lozano said.
For Santos Laguna, hearing Lozano talk about the future is now less nerve-wracking as the club wasn’t even sure if the 25-year-old, nicknamed “Huevo,” would even play there in 2020. After the Apertura ended, Lozano–who had nine goals and six assists in the competition–attracted the attention of several clubs, including D.C. United, LAFC and even clubs in Europe. In the end, his transfer and contract fees were too high for interested parties, and Lozano stayed put. Days after the Clausura kicked off, the club handed him a contract extension until 2022.
Lozano says part of the reason why he decided to stay and sign the extension was that he feels a sense of loyalty to Santos, especially after the club gave him a second chance in the league after a disappointing campaign with America.
“I am extremely happy here and owe this club a lot," Lozano said. "I am very pleased on signing the extension. There was interest this offseason, but a lot of times, it’s out of your hands. In the end, I stayed and I am very happy.”
But Lozano–like any other young player–is ambitious and as he turns 26 in late February, he knows that his talents could take him elsewhere in the future if he continues to perform well.
“Of course, I have aspirations of playing somewhere else," Lozano said. "Maybe Europe. I can’t ignore it. It’s the dream for many players. I mean, listen, I am not someone who can give definite answers about the future. For now, I want to help Santos Laguna and give it my all, but I can never give a concrete answer about where I could end up. For now, I am happy to give everything to Santos Laguna.”
European ambitions aside, Lozano has also witnessed the rise of MLS and its interest in South American talent. He echoes a sentiment shared by many players who are based in the league, including countrymen Diego Rossi and Brian Rodriguez, who star for LAFC.
“MLS is growing, and you can see it," said Lozano, who has eight caps with Uruguay's senior national team and played against the U.S. in a 1-1 draw last September. "I was listening to a few players who play over there a short while ago and they talk about the competitiveness and how it’s improving and you can see it. It’s a growing league.”
MLS’s growth has also meant a stronger relationship with Liga MX, both on and off the field. After announcing a long-term partnership in 2018, which included the launch of Campeones Cup, the Leagues Cup, a Liga MX-MLS All-Star game and a collaborative effort to share business and social initiatives, the recent transfer dealings between both leagues have also been extremely active.
This winter has so far featured eight key players leaving Liga MX clubs for ones in MLS. From Edison Flores heading to D.C. United, to Chivas star Alan Pulido going to Sporting Kansas City to reliable Mexican center back Oswaldo Alanis being reunited with Matias Almeyda with the San Jose Earthquakes and Friday's move of Felipe Mora from Pumas to Portland, MLS clubs are offering more in order to attract Mexico-based talent. But equally, Liga MX has done business of its own, as five players, including Luciano Acosta (Atlas), Uriel Antuna (Chivas) and Leandro Gonzalez Pirez (Tijuana), have left MLS and headed south.
Lozano believes the transactional relationship between both leagues helps improve the overall quality of soccer in the continent.
“The relationship between both leagues helps Mexican soccer and MLS, because teams become more competitive, and I think it’s great for the region. A strong connection for both leagues–players and everyone–can only be good for the product.”
Time will tell if Lozano ends up becoming part of another MLS-Liga MX transfer story in the future, but for now, the Uruguayan’s entire focus is on Santos Laguna and helping the team win this year’s Clausura.
“I don’t think about anything else but helping the team,” he says. “My objectives are always clear: to help the team and win. Scoring is great and it will be nice to be top scorer, but I don’t think about that. I want to help this team win. That’s it. I don’t care about anything else.”