We're past the halfway point of the Liga MX Apertura. So much can change over the second portion of the season, but there are a few things that strike us as settled. Monterrey is really good. Pumas are really bad. And there are a whole lot of teams in between.
Let's talk about those in between teams as we look back on Round 9 of the tournament:
Tijuana's learning process complete
There always was going to be an adjustment period for Tijuana between Miguel Herrera, whose America team visited the border Friday, and Eduardo Coudet. The managers have different styles of play, different ways of working and different ideas about how soccer should be played. Coudet also ended up with a squad largely depleted of its biggest stars from the previous tournament in which Herrera coached the team to the top of the Liga MX table after the regular season.
Friday's 1-1 draw may have left Xolos fans disappointed. After all, even during Herrera's two-tournament tenure the team didn't win five straight as a win over Las Aguilas would've been. America going down to 10 men after Miguel Samudio's second yellow card in the 58th minute should've given the home side the perfect opportunity. Instead, the teams ended level.
That may be bittersweet for a team hoping to get one over on the new manager, but what Xolos did display Friday is that the adjustment period is over. None of the teams Coudet's men beat during that four-match run currently sit in the playoff places, but Herrera has America playing like not only a playoff team but a title contender. Xolos showed this week that they can hang with the league's top teams when playing in the Argentine's style. The transition is over.
Chivas weathered early storm
Chivas had to battle back from a goal behind but drew Pumas 1-1. On paper, it's not a great result. Pumas sit in last place, have an interim manager and haven't won on the road against Chivas for more than 35 years. On the field, though, Chivas were the better team, unlucky not to get all three points after dominating possession, registering more shots and outplaying Pumas over 90 minutes.
There are other reasons for smiles around Chivas' Valle Verde training facility this week. Forward Alan Pulido is back in training and the team's nine points have it within striking distance of the Liguilla places with several weeks left to go. There are so many positive feelings in Guadalajara that some have turned their attention toward another Copa-Liga double ahead of this week's cup Clasico Tapatio against Atlas.
"We have our mind set on being champions of the Copa again," defender Carlos Salcido said at a news conference. "We play Atlas and we know what the Claisco means, but our mind isn't on Atlas but rather on lifting the cup. If we have to go through Atlas, go through another team who is in front of us, we have to worry about ourselves."
That seems ambitious, but the storm the reigning champion was going through at the beginning of the Apertura looks to have passed with sunnier days ahead.
Life after Chucky harder than expected
This isn't how Pachuca's season was supposed to go. After winning the CONCACAF Champions League last tournament, Pachuca was supposed to have a calm campaign, make the playoffs, fight for the title and be ready to go for the Club World Cup at the end of the year.
Instead, Tuzos were handed another big defeat, this time at the hands of brother club Leon, and sit 13th after their third straight defeat. The attack has missed Hirving "Chucky" Lozano, who was sold in the summer to PSV, but even with Lozano present in the spring lacked a playmaker to bring Lozano, Jonathan Urretaviscaya and forward Franco Jara into plays. Edson Puch was signed to replace Lozano while Keisuke Honda arrived to create. Puch wasn't in the squad and Honda was a substitute Saturday as Victor Guzman returned from suspension, but neither Guzman nor Honda made any sort of mark on the game.
It's hardly just a hole created by Lozano that has the team struggling. Center backs Omar Gonzalez and Oscar Murillo both were poor Saturday and were more culpable for Pachuca heading into the halftime break down 3-0 than any attacking struggles were.
All this may be taking away from a terrific showing by Leon. Once again the team has been energized by a switch at manager. Mauro Boselli scored his 100th goal with Leon and his seventh this tournament, putting him atop the league's scoring chart.
The win keeps Leon in the playoff positions, something Pachuca will envy - and Diego Alonso's side may keep looking up at Leon if he's unable to rely on the defenders who were so critical during the trophy wins and find a way to get his attack working together again.
Tigres can't lose focus
Tigres' 3-3 draw with Morelia hardly should set any alarm bells ringing. Tuca Ferretti's men sit sixth in the table and now are unbeaten in their last four games. Plus, Tigres were solid in the contest, twice wresting back the lead after an own goal opened the scoring and then Raul Ruidiaz converted in the second half.
However, Tigres do need to have a little more caution going forward. We've seen this before. Ferretti and the club's technical staff have put together the most talented roster in Mexico and one of the best squads in the Americas. The expectations are different. Tigres may not win every game, but Friday's contest was one they should've been able to control and leave with three points. Especially with rival Monterrey putting distance between themselves and other teams at the top of the table, the standard is higher.
Ferretti called his team's defending 'criminal' and said the result could've been 7-7 the way the teams were playing, but too often he's failed to pay heed to the wake-up calls he gets from this team. Pay attention to how they respond next weekend against Veracruz.
Organizational issues again emerge
The final match of the Liga MX weekend was delayed not by weather or crowd trouble but by laundry. Veracruz and Lobos BUAP both expected to wear white after Labor Day, with home side Veracruz switching to red kits after it became clear that was the only way the match was going to be played. The Liga MX website indicated that Veracruz was to wear all-white, while Lobos were to wear red shirts and shorts.
Last week, we talked about infrastructure and how imperative it is that the Mexican federation and Liga MX make sure venues are a safe place for fans to come together and a safe work environment for players. This doesn't have the same high stakes, but it is embarrassing.
We know Lobos have issues. The team is depending on an army of players loaned from other clubs and has to resort to streaming its own games as none of the country's TV providers are interested in carrying their games. That puts them at an even bigger financial disadvantage than they already were at when they came into the league. But those red jerseys are somewhere, and not bringing them on the trip is not acceptable.
That said, the deck is stacked against them in many ways as the promoted team. Too little attention is given to teams in the second division, where a few clubs are ready for the top division but too many more are nowhere near close to the standard required both on and off the field. And teams that go down? Well, Chiapas being relegated and then folding is a scene that will repeat itself until the Ascenso can begin to generate more money. That won't happen until the federation takes it more seriously. Mexico is a football-loving country with a top-15 population in the world, yet the apathy of those in charge continues to hold down the national teams, the women's game and the lower divisions.
Goal of the Week
I can already hear the fans from the other side of Monterrey protesting, but this goal from Javier Aquino gets the nod over Dorlan Pabon's similar goal because of the movement on the ball. Pabon's shot takes a normal arc, but I'm not even sure what Aquino does to this. I am sure it's our Goal of the Week.