Who will win Liga MX? Goal handicaps the Apertura title race

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Goal takes a look at the contenders including Tigres and America and teams like Chivas and Pumas who may struggle

The Liga MX season is a sprint, not a marathon.

The Apertura and Clausura model leaves managers little time to carefully bring along their teams. The season starts Friday and from there it's less than two months until the midway point.

Once the playoffs are set, there's still hardly time to catch your breath. The two-legged series end up meaning even more matches in an even shorter period of time. At the end, you have your champion.

It's wild and fun, and Goal will be trying to keep up every step of the way. But the huge, quick swings make it tough to know who's in the race to lift the trophy and who will fall by the wayside before October.

Let's take a look at the teams that look like they're going to be competing to win - and those who will be sitting on the sidelines.  


Liga MX title contenders


These are the favorites heading into the season, the teams who if they're lifting the trophy as confetti falls around them in December will have you saying, 'You know, I picked them to win before the tournament.'

Tigres - Tuca Ferretti's teams thrive in the Apertura, and once again Tigres looks like they can lift the trophy. Guido Pizarro's return frees up Ferretti to change up his tactics, and adds protection for a back line that features several aging players. Between that, the team's experience and an attack that features at least six players who would start every week on any other Liga MX team, things are shaping up for another title run.

Toluca - Only Ferretti has coached his club longer than Toluca boss Hernan Cristante, and the former goalkeeper clearly knows the league well. Bringing in former America midfielder William da Silva to replace the departed Leonel Lopez keeps the team strong in the middle. Forward Fernando Uribe's departure for Brazil could hurt, but 20-year-old Alexis Vega was promising last season and winger Luis Quinones should add several goals as well. This is a team that can get back to the final.

Club America - Losing Jeremy Menez for the season because of an ACL injury is a blow for Miguel Herrera's men, but the team's strong base in defense will help them weather the storm. Roger Martinez should adapt quickly to the league, and the defense is even deeper with left back Luis Reyes signing from Atlas. A title run may depend on if Martinez, Henry Martin and/or Oribe Peralta can step up and make the attacking concerns a thing of the past. 

Monterrey - Maybe manager Antonio Mohamed was just cursed with Rayados. After winning championships with Club Tijuana and Club America, he couldn't get over the hump. "El Turco" is off to La Liga now, but Monterrey brought in another coach with a league title to his name in former Pachuca boss Diego Alonso. With Jesus Gallardo and Rodolfo Pizarro also joining in the offseason, an already formidable attack is getting even better. If the team takes to Alonso, it could be a tournament to remember.

 

Liga MX Apertura preview

Let's look at some of the biggest questions to be answered when the LIGA Bancomer MX Apertura kicks off Friday. Posted by Jon Arnold on Thursday, July 19, 2018

 


The mid-table hopefuls


Pedro Caixinha Cruz Azul

Taking inspiration from Santos Laguna and previous champions like Pachuca, Tijuana and a previous version of Santos, there will be teams that finish in the five-eight seed range and look to hit their stride in the playoffs. It happens every year, and there's generally one or two teams from this bunch who are able to make some noise and at least get into the semifinals.

Tijuana - Diego Cocca's debut season in Mexico went better than expected, but now he has to deal with being at a selling club. His best player last year, center back Pablo Aguilar, now is playing for a rival. So too are Ignacio Malcorra and Juan Iturbe. At least forward Gustavo Bou and midfielder Damian Musto were transferred out of the country. Xolos' defense was superb last season, but it'll be tough to match that production with so many new pieces.

Cruz Azul - There's lots of enthusiasm around this grande, even though it hasn't won a title in more than two decades. New sporting director Ricardo Pelaez made waves, bringing in proven center backs Aguilar and Igor Lichnovsky. He also brought in wingers Elias Hernandez and Roberto Alvarado with holding midfielder Ivan Marcone coming in from Argentina and forward Milton Caraglio arriving from Atlas. It's a make-or-break season for manager Pedro Caixinha as the club looks to start life in the Estadio Azteca with a bang.

Necaxa - Los Rayos may be the most interesting team in the league this year, putting their faith in 31-year-old coach Marcelo Michel Leano. The coach has crossed paths with some of the game's greats, working with Johan Cruyff during the Dutchman's time with Chivas. He has a decent side to work with, though losing Marcelo Barovero, Lichnovsky and Roberto Alvarado could create early headaches. Things got off to a good start with a Supercopa win over Monterrey. 

Pumas - David Patino got a hot start from his team in the Clausura but saw things fade down the stretch. Losing Nicolas Castillo to Benfica and Jesus Gallardo to Monterrey will hurt, but the team has done well to bring in players proven in Mexico. Could an attack not a dependent on Castillo emerge and ultimately make the Mexico City club stronger?

Puebla - Veteran coach Enrique "Ojitos" Meza has built a team that could get over the hump and get back into the Liguilla after missing out on the postseason by just a point last tournament. The addition of veterans Jose Torres and Jonathan Espericueta, two players many have forgotten with plenty to prove, may backfire but if not will be an inspired decision by the 70-year-old.

Santos Laguna - The reigning champion is in the mix for some players in the transfer market, but it will be tough to repeat without Djaniny, Nestor Araujo and Carlos Izquierdoz. There are good young players coming through the ranks, but Robert Siboldi will need to pull off something special to add another trophy to the cabinet.


'Rebuilding year'


Alan Pulido Eriq Zavaleta Chivas Toronto FC CONCACAF Champions League

The rebuilding year euphemism is something teams want to avoid, but it's also a fact. Sometimes, a tournament doesn't go your way.

Chivas - The legion of fans for Mexico's best-supported team might not like it, but for now Chivas have to fall firmly in this category. There's turnover at manager, goalkeeper, center back and up front with Pizarro headed to Monterrey. Jose Cardozo has a tough task if he wants to get this team into the form needed to have success at the Club World Cup this winter.

Atlas - Atlas ended last season on a five-match unbeaten streak, and Los Zorros might be closer than it seems to getting back into the Liguilla. Still, despite picking up at least one proven player at each position during the summer, Rafa Marquez and Co. may need another offseason to truly turn things around. 

Queretaro - Rafa Puente Jr. takes over the Gallos Blancos after doing well with what he had at Lobos BUAP. His life will be less stressful at Queretaro, where relegation isn't hanging over his head. However, the team may not have done enough in the summer to give Puente a team that truly can contend.

Pachuca - It's been a big fall-off for Pachuca, going from winning the 2016 Apertura to missing the playoffs in consecutive tournaments. What did the club do to get better this offseason? They held on to Erick Gutierrez, but otherwise there hasn't been much indication Pako Ayestaran will have much to work with.

Leon - Something needed to change at Leon after last season's seven-loss campaign. Gustavo Diaz remained as the coach and many players are still around, but the team said farewell to Andres Andrade, Elias Hernandez and Landon Donovan. Mauro Boselli should find the back of the net, but he'll have to build chemistry quickly with new acquisitions to get back to the playoffs. Rodolfo Cota, the former Chivas goalkeeper acquired on loan from Pachuca, could help things improve at the back.

Veracruz - It's always a rebuilding year at Veracruz.

Lobos BUAP - A team that avoided relegation only by, well, whatever happened with the relegation situation is back for another two tournaments. It's now Paco Palencia at the helm, with several of his former Pumas players back and globetrotting forward Colin Kazim-Richards also in the mix. Bringing that together into a team that finishes in the top eight? Easier said than done.

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