Another Liga MX season rolls on in this Friday, exactly two months to the day since Leon defeated Pachuca 2-0 to win back to back titles for the first time since Pumas under Hugo Sanchez in 2004.
The Apertura 2014 brings some new stories to follow, as well as a few old ones that are set to continue to be of interest. Here’s a look at ten of the main ones:
Will the Monterrey clubs’ woes continue?
Tigres and Monterrey have both vied for the title of having the best overall squad in the Liga MX over recent seasons, possess two of the league’s best fans, but have failed on the pitch. Once again, both clubs go into the season looking strong on paper. The big question is if they can finally put it together.
Leon’s bid for history
No team has won the Liga MX title in three consecutive seasons since the playoff system came in, but Leon enter the Apertura with as good a chance as anyone of winning the championship once again. Uruguayan Gustavo Matosas remains in place as coach and the arrival of Martin Bravo, Marcos Caicedo and Yamilson Rivera should add firepower upfront. This Leon side has already confirmed its place in Mexican soccer folklore, winning another title would make it one of the all-time legendary great teams.
Chivas’ relegation struggle
That’s right. Chivas’ first concern this Apertura is to open up as much distance as possible between themselves and Puebla, who is currently four points behind the Guadalajara team in the relegation table. New signings like Carlos Salcido, David Toledo, Fernando Arce and Angel Reyna should mean the club has enough quality to do so, but the pressure is intense, just as it was at River Plate in Argentina a couple of years back.
Atlas with realistic title hopes
It feels awkward to even write these words, but Atlas is a genuine contender this season. The club has been busy in the offseason and new signings like Juan Carlos Medina, Aldo Leao, Edgar Castillo and Luis Caballero should make the side one to fear in the Apertura. The Guadalajara side is without a title since 1951, something that rival Chivas fans like to constantly remind Atlistas.
Returning World Cup players
The Liga MX’s schedule is at odds with that of Europe’s major leagues and some of players that were at Brazil 2014 will have had just a week or so of rest before joining up with their clubs. The likes of Raul Jimenez (America), Alan Pulido (Tigres), Carlos Pena (Leon), Oribe Peralta (America) and others are behind in preseason and even when they do get back playing, it may be tricky for them to keep up their form after a busy summer.
Powerhouse America in contention
Jimenez may yet leave the club and Francisco Rodriguez and Juan Carlos Medina have already left, but Las Aguilas flaunted their spending power this offseason with the biggest domestic signing of the summer in Oribe Peralta, as well as Argentine Paolo Goltz and Ecuadorian international Michael Arroyo. Once again, America should make a deep playoff run.
Enrique Meza sprung one of the most pleasant surprises in recent Liga MX seasons when he stuck with a young Tuzos side that played exciting, risky attacking football. With a final behind them and more experience in the bank, it’ll be fascinating to see how Jurgen Damm, Rodolfo Pizarro, Hirving Lozano, Erick Gutierrez and Dieter Villalpando develop and if opposing teams can find a way of stopping them.
The mercurial forward has produced moments of magic and despair in almost equal measure over his career. The America youth product is now at Chivas and his presence could be exactly what the team needs. Alternatively, the 29-year-old could be a disaster. Only time will tell.
Leones Negros arrive
The Liga MX newcomers should add plenty of color to the league. The club proclaims its lion-fronted shirts to be the best in the Liga MX and the university team should regularly fill the Estadio Jalisco with boisterous student fans excited about the promotion. Guadalajara derbies against Chivas and Atlas should not be missed, but there is a major concern over the quality of the squad Leones Negros currently possess.
Incoming talent from abroad
Out have gone top players like Enner Valencia and (likely) Jefferson Montero from the Liga MX. But there are some incoming names to look out for.
Santos Laguna recruit Djaniny Tavares is a forward who can run at defenders, is physically big and could well make a big impact. Elsewhere, Juan Arango at Xolos should be interesting, as well as the Leon duo of Caicedo and Rivera, Goltz at America, Tigres trio Joffre Guerron, Nahuel Guzman and Marco Ruben and Atlas’ Caballero.