Tom Marshall: Mexico’s CONCACAF Champions League contenders

Four Liga MX clubs will look to continue Mexico's tradition of CONCACAF Champions League dominance.
Mexican teams have made up 14 of the last 16 finalists in CONCACAF’s regional club competition and boast a strong lineup this time around in Cruz Azul, America, Tijuana and Toluca.

The rest of the field may be relieved that the dominant Monterrey – champion for the last three consecutive seasons – is not in the competition, as well as perennial challenger Santos Laguna, but among the Liga Bancomer MX teams are three clubs looking for international honors to build on historical greatness within Mexico – America, Cruz Azul and Toluca – and one upstart in Xolos that is highly ambitious and intent, in their own words, on breaking down borders.

With the competition now underway this week, here’s a look at what to expect from the Mexican teams involved:

Clausura 2013 Champion

Coach Miguel Herrera made it clear Tuesday that the fact a place at the Club World Cup is at stake means the CONCACAF Champions League (CCL) is of utmost importance for America – whose very name implies continental grandiose.

The loss of Christian Benitez is important, but Narciso Mina, Luis Gabriel Rey, Raul Jimenez, Rubens Sambueza and Andres Aldrete provide plenty of options in the attacking third. If Herrera is the least bit unsatisfied, the club has plenty of money in the coffers to bring in players during the winter transfer window, before the knockout games begin.

What perhaps makes America favorites for the whole competition is the combination of its strength in depth – with international players often on the bench – and the will of the organization to succeed in this tournament. Just a day after Las Aguilas were crowned Liga MX champions, Herrera explained that club directors set him a Club World Cup appearance as his next goal.

Look out for: Like him or loathe him, Herrera is one of those people that says exactly what comes into his head, without filter. Expect fireworks in press conferences, especially if America comes up against a team from the US. Remember, this is a man who has explicitly stated that his ultimate job is that of Mexico national team coach.

Club Tijuana
Apertura 2012 Champion

Xolos have been forthright in selling an international vision and have enjoyed a meteoric rise capped by the Apertura 2012 title and last season’s Copa Libertadores run – in which they were just one Duvier Riascos penalty kick away from putting out eventual winner Atletico Mineiro.

Riascos jumping ship to Pachuca has been a massive loss, but Dario Benedetto looks like being a competent replacement and newcomer Herculez Gomez has a special affinity for the CCL.

The only doubt is on manager Jorge Almiron, who is new to the post and still getting to grips with the squad he has. Whether he can manage his squad and the travel involved in such an adept way as his predecessor Antonio Mohamed remains to be seen.

Look out for: Youth. Xolos have been quietly building a enviable youth setup in the north western tip of Mexico and some of the products may get playing time in the CCL group stage. For US fans, the likes of Alejandro Guido, Stevie Rodriguez, Raul Rodriguez, Bruno Piceno, Greg Garza and Paul Arriola could feature.

Qualified: Apertura 2012 Runner-up

You would have to think that getting that 11th title to tie America and Chivas would be prioritized ahead of continental competition for Paraguayan Jose Cardozo’s men and the Diablos Rojos crashed out of last season’s Libertadores at the group stage, despite defeating Boca Juniors in La Bombonera.

The club from the Estado de Mexico looks like being the weakest of the teams from Mexico, but it is still very capable and the spine of the team – Alfredo Talavera, Paulo da Silva, Wilson Tiago, Sinha and Pablo Velazquez – is more than solid.

Look out for: Sinha –  It seems almost certain that this is the last season in the career of the diminutive Brazilian-Mexican and the playmaker will want to go out with a trophy.

Cruz Azul
Qualified: Clausura 2013 Runner-up

So close last season to a league and cup double in Mexico, Cruz Azul has one of the best squads in the Liga MX, will be wanting to lift some silverware and – one assumes – get one over on America at some point in the near future.

Not a team traditionally known for producing youth products, it’ll be interesting to see how La Maquina coach Guillarmo Vazquez balances his squad and whether he does rest key players such as Christian Gimenez, Gerardo Torrado and Jesus Corona for the CCL group games or not.

The positive that the arrival of Joao Rojas has been slightly offset by Teofilo Gutierrez leaving, although La Maquina still has a foreigner’s spot left.

Look out for: A team that looks good, progresses to the final, but can’t quite make that final step. (Sorry Cruz Azul fans).