The first round of Liga MX was packed with quality — and some of the quirky things that often set Liga MX apart from other leagues around the world. The second week could be even better as more winter signings take the field for a slate of games that has a handful of matches that will draw interest from around the region.
Enough hype. Time to get into what everyone's talking about ahead of Jornada 2:
IT'S A BIG WEEKEND FOR ... RUBENS SAMBUEZA
After serving his one-match suspension for his red card in the second leg of the Liga MX final, Rubens Sambueza is eligible to play. After an unpleasant departure from Club America, Sambueza is now a Toluca player. So, he's eligible, but will he play?
"The idea is that he could start, though he's just getting to know the group," Toluca coach Hernan Cristante said earlier in the week. And while reports this week indicate that Sambueza is taking longer than hoped to readjust to the high altitude in the center of the country, you can bet the Argentine will see significant minutes against his old club.
Toluca ran riot over an Atlas team that has a poor defense and was reduced to 10 men. Doing the same against a well-drilled America team, albeit one in transition and playing its first game of the season after the league delayed its opener, will be tougher.
America's core of Pablo Aguilar and Paolo Goltz in the center (Goltz may return to Argentina, but it appears a move won't go through until after the Clausura), along with breakout 19-year-old Edson Alvarez will be familiar with Sambueza's capabilities coming in from the left.
They'll also have to stop Toluca's other big addition, Gabriel Hauche, and Erbin Trejo, who had a double in Toluca's 4-1 opening-round win. Former Santos Laguna goalkeeper Agustin Marchesin also will be aware of what Sambueza can do, but he'll be making his America debut.
Though Las Aguilas will do everything in their power, players like winger Renato Ibarra (pictured above hugging Sambu) will still find it strange seeing someone so familiar dressed in the enemy's colors.
"I think that's how soccer goes, you never know when you're going to be on another team," Ibarra said. "When I got here, he helped me a lot because he was the leader of the group. It's going to be a little weird to see him against us."
Another thing to keep an eye on is Sambueza's discipline. Perhaps, after weeks of talk about his disciplinary record and how he led the league in cards received during the Apertura, he'll take it easy on his old teammates. But referee Cesar Ramos has a reputation for going to his cards quickly. Frankly, if Sambueza can help Toluca return to the postseason, Cristante might not care, but he's going to have to stay on the field to do that. The first step might be to stay out of trouble in his debut.
DON'T MISS ... MONTERREY vs. CHIVAS
There was a little bit of luck involved for both teams, but Monterrey and Chivs both come into the second week with three points in their pockets after opening the year with wins.
Monterrey was shaky on the road against Puebla in a 3-2 victory and perhaps fortunate not to see its second goal flagged as offside, with its third goal coming from a penalty that not every referee in the league would've called. But fans in La Sultana del Norte, and indeed Monterrey coach Antonio Mohamed, won't be focused on that.
Instead, the two-goal performance by new signing Jesus Molina, a player who should reinforce the midfield but surprisingly added goals Sunday, and a potential reconciliation with Edwin Cardona will be the focus. Cardona said before the season that he was frustrated because after an Apertura of feuding with the coach and others in the team's power structure the team still didn't sell him to Europe.
But he came on at the half, played well and converted the winning penalty. If the Colombia international has the right mentality and can again combine with Rogelio Funes Mori and Dorlan Pabon, it could be a challenge for Chivas to stop Los Rayados.
That's especially true if Chivas' defense is as poor as it was in their Jornada 1 victory over Pumas. Although the unit typically is the team's strength, the post was its savior on more than one occasion in the 2-1 victory.
First-half goals from Javier "La Chofis" Lopez and Alan Pulido also took the pressure off, even if Pumas didn't, pressing the defenders and causing a turnover that led to Alan Mendoza's goal. The team hung on, but Matias Almeyda will hope Oswaldo Alanis can get back to top form — or he'll have to consider trying someone else next to Jair Pereira.
We should see an entertaining contest between two clubs with big aspirations for the season. Despite missing the postseason last season, Monterrey brings in a 10-match unbeaten streak at the Estadio BBVA Bancomer. Chivas has the talent to put that streak in question, especially if the defense can get back to its usual form.
KEEP AN EYE OUT FOR ... THE CLASH IN THE CAPITAL
Coming off a defeat to Chivas, Pumas return to Mexico City to face Cruz Azul. It's a contest that in previous years might've been marked down as an easy home opener, but this year there's a renewed enthusiasm around La Maquina. Spanish coach Paco Jemez took over and Cruz Azul was able to find a victory in its first match of the season, topping Necaxa at home.
The results don't tell the full story here, though. Pumas had a solid performance, getting a number of shots on goal against Chivas but struggling to find a breakthrough. Cruz Azul's performance was adequate but not awe-inspiring.
It will be fascinating to see what tweaks Jemez and his counterpart, Pumas' Paco Palencia, make to their teams when they meet Sunday. Both managers will be confident their teams can improve on their showings in the opening weekend as they integrate their winter signings.
While Nicolas Castillo was involved for Pumas and loan returnee Alan Mendoza scored and impressed defensively at left back, Bryan Rabello will hope to understand his role better in the midfield.
For Cruz Azul, former Colo-Colo attacker Martin Rodriguez could debut. Could his creativity be the key to Paraguayan forward Jorge Benitez returning to the form he showed last spring? Jemez certainly will hope so. But while his first road trip isn't a tough ask as far as distance goes (about seven miles separate the teams' venues), he'll come up against a challenge.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
"This league, like all of them, has its quirks. In each squad you must include at least eight Mexican players, you're not allowed to water the grass an hour before the start of the match ... each team plays at home at the same time on the same day, ahhhh and the best, they don't make the managers speak right after the match. (I hope they take note of this ridiculous practice in Spain)." — Paco Jemez, Cruz Azul manager in his Marca-Claro column
Paco Jemez seems to be enjoying life with Cruz Azul. The best part? Apparently that he doesn't have to speak to a reporter on television right after a match.