As for the latest in our Top 5 Lists series, we asked Kim Tate to give us five reasons on why Americans should start following Liga MX. Kim follows Mexico, Liga MX, CONCACAF, and CONMEBOL and will be covering Costa Rica at the World Cup for Telegraph Sport. You can follow her on Twitter at @KimTateSports.
Aside from the 20 (that I counted) Americans playing in Liga MX right now, there are other reasons to start becoming familiar with the league and some of the great entertainment it has to offer. Just a few of my reasons to become a Liga MX follower this year, below.
1) Copa Libertadores
In this year’s 55th edition of the famed South American tournament, three of Mexico’s Liga MX teams will compete against three teams from Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela; and five from Argentina and Brazil. The 2014 Mexico teams are all suited for some good battles, especially if Liga MX squads with talent from their opposing countries like Ecuador, Argentina and Brazil end up competing against their home sides. Santos Laguna, Leon, and Morelia are all strong teams who had good showings in the 2013 Apertura, finishing second, third, and sixth, respectively.
Morelia, already well rounded with talent, will face Santa Fe in the first stage, a two-legged, home and away series which will determine which teams are placed into groups for the second stage. The winner of Morelia/Santa Fe will be placed into Group 5 with Atlético Mineiro (Brazil), Nacional (Paraguay), and Zamora (Venezuela). Santos and Leon already have their group placements in the second stage, and will play in a home and away round -robin series. Santos has goal scoring hero Oribe Peralta paired with a firey Darwin Quintero, and their opponents will be Peñarol (Uruguay), Arsenal (Argentina), and Deportivo Anzoátegui (Venezuela). This is Leon’s second consecutive year in the tournament, and players like Argentine Mauro Boselli who had 18 goals in 22 games in 2013 will face a group with Bolívar (Bolivia), Flamengo (Brazil), and Emelec (Ecuador). While no Mexico team has ever won it all in Copa Libertadores, it still makes for some great entertainment to see Liga MX clubs pitted against some of the top teams in South America, which already has a reputation for being home to some of the most exciting football in the world.
2) Herculez Gomez in CONCACAF Champions League
More of a regional tournament, CONCACAF Champions League is a showcase of qualifying teams from MLS, Mexico, and other Central American regions and emulates similar Champions League format as UEFA Champions League in Europe. Aside from Toluca and Cruz Azul, the third remaining team for Mexico is Club Tijuana, which recently picked up Herculez Gomez from Santos Laguna last season.
For those unfamiliar, Gomez is notorious for absolutely terrorizing teams with his oodles of goals in this tournament, and is especially famed for doing so against MLS opponents. He proved it last year with Santos, and while not an MLS opponent, he proved his rule over CONCACAF again in Tijuana’s 6-0 defeat of Victoria in September, where he scored three goals upon his club debut after sitting out for two months with a leg injury. The feat left him in a tie for fifth on the all-time scoring list with Oribe Peralta, his former teammate at Santos, and he also became the only player to score more than one goal in each of the last three editions of the Champions League. The accolades go on: he is the first player to have ever won the Liga MX title and an MLS Cup, which he did with Santos Laguna in 2012 and the LA Galaxy in 2005. As fate would have it, the Galaxy are Tijuana’s next scheduled opponent when CONCACAF Champions League resumes in March.
3) America and Chivas, Mexico’s two most successful clubs
When Mexico almost imploded in World Cup qualifying, the Federation brought in Club America’s manager Miguel Herrera as a last minute attempt to salvage the national team’s chances of making it past the playoffs to secure a spot in Brazil. What we got was an America-dominant El Tri, with seven players from Las Aguilas taking the pitch during the remainder of the qualification process. Sure, El Piojo mixed in players from Leon like his captain, Rafa Marquez, goal scoring machine Oribe Peralta from Santos and 37 year old Sinha from Toluca, but that same America-based club side is the team we’ll see fielded for a majority of the season in this Clausura. They won the Liguilla in the 2013 Clausura and were in contention to win it again during the 2013 Apertura, but Leon denied them of their 12th title and hopes of becoming Mexico’s most successful club. Regardless, Luis Gabriel Rey and Raul Jimenez are dynamite; powerhouse Aquivaldo Mosquero reminds us of the late Chucho Benitez; and their overall cohesion and organization makes for some great football. It will be interesting to see how they do under new manager Antonio ‘Turco’ Mohamed, who won the 2012 title and made a deep run in Copa Lib at the helm of Tijuana.
Chivas is another story, finishing 16th in the Apertura and with relegation looming if they don’t see a significant turnaround. The addition of former Atlas man Omar Bravo – who was named captain and scored within 2 minutes in their 1-1 draw with Santos Laguna Saturday night – Israel Castro, Gerardo Rodriguez and Jair Pereira will hopefully aid in turning things around while the drama continues in Guadalajara. Will be fun to watch it all come to the surface.
4) Enter the Ecuadorians
Ecuadorian players have become more prominent over the last couple of years in Liga MX, and they’re especially fun to watch when placed in scrappy situations. Observe a Xolos match and think of who you’re reminded of when watching Fidel Martinez – he’s a standout in talent and looks, with speed and technical skill a soccer junkie could watch all day long. For Morelia, Jefferson Montero is skillful and a handful on all levels. Though they recently suffered a surprising 1-0 defeat to Queretaro in their Clausura home opener, Montero still wrecked havoc and provided start to finish pizzazz without having scored any goals. Walter Ayovi is a special defensive talent who was recently picked up by Pachuca after having spent four years at Monterrey, and his cousin, Jaimen, just signed with Tijuana to compliment the attack led by Martinez. Atlante’s Ecuadorian duo in Narciso Mina and Michael Arroyo will be ones to watch as well. South American talent is far and wide in Liga MX, but these players stand out and enhance the experience of watching already fast-paced games by adding their explosiveness and unique style of play.
5) Club drama
All leagues and teams have their share of bumps in the road, PR blunders, and “diva”-like attitudes from players, but a handful of the Mexican league’s administrations and coaches provide some the best entertainment there is in this region. Queretaro’s very public “announcements” of “new” signings DaMarcus Beasley from Puebla and Camilo Sanvezzo from Vancouver Whitecaps recently both turned out to be a web of confusion and haste on behalf of los Gallos, with the latter causing an internet standoff and quite a reaction from the Whitecaps. The Beasley thing was amusing and confusing, especially when the club released official statements while Beas and his agent took to twitter to set the record straight, but the Camilo saga was just brilliant entertainment if you sat on Twitter and watched it all unfold. As it stands, Queretaro has since removed all tweets announcing Camilo as its newest signing, and deleted any associated pictures of the Brazilian MLS Golden Boot winner donned in a club kit, but two blunders in a row is pretty bad. Funny to be a spectator on the outside, though.