You can lob a lot of criticism at Liga MX, but you could never say that it's boring.
This weekend brought another reminder of that fact. The matchups weren't necessarily the sexiest, with the best game in the traditional sense pitting Club America against Cruz Azul, two clubs that were sitting well out of the playoff positions.
But instead we saw that the league is filled with teams that - at any time - can jump up and bite the top sides. And that thought is where we begin the five things we learned this weekend...
NO TEAM TRULY DOMINANT
The biggest lesson we learned this weekend is that no team in this league is truly dominant. There is no runaway favorite, and if this league were one decided based on the best regular season performance, we'd be looking at a title race going down to the wire.
That was most obvious Sunday night. After most of the league's top sides had suffered setbacks, Chivas rolled out to a 2-0 lead in Tuxtla Gutierrez and seemed to be headed to the top of the table. A big win would have solidified the seed of a thought that Chivas, with its potent attack and quality defense, is perhaps the sole title favorite. Then the second 45 minutes happened. Jaguares - a team that managed to drop results to relegation-threatened Morelia at home two weeks ago and was blown out in Puebla last weekend - scored three goals in four minutes to turn the tide and eventually finished with a 4-3 win.
A reporter tried to offer up an excuse to Matias Almeyda, suggesting maybe the weather in the jungle region took its toll on Chivas. The manager wasn't having it.
"There's no justification," he said. "The first half was excellent, and the second was bad."
Chivas' miserable half wasn't the only example that the league is bereft of a dominant team. Previously undefeated Monterrey was listless against Club Tijuana, and while Santos maintained its own undefeated run Sunday in its sixth draw of the season, it was good enough for only seventh place in the league, a spot hardly marking a power side.
What about current leader Tijuana, which emphatically saw off Monterrey? It's tough to look at last week's collapse against Pumas and a 2-1 home loss to Necaxa and see a team that is going to roll to the finals. Last year's No. 1 finish in the regular season and immediate exit to the No. 8 seed also still weighs on the mind.
Yes, in this tournament any team can get a win on any weekend. It's something Liga MX should embrace. Fans can enjoy the level competition, stressful though it may be for the partisans.
EL CEPILLO BRUSHING UP
Oribe Peralta scored his second and third goals of the Clausura on Saturday, leading Club America to a 2-0 victory over Cruz Azul and showing that he still has what it takes to lead the line in a productive attack. There were questions about the 33-year-old, whose other goal this tournament came in a 4-2 defeat to Tigres. America's attack had scored just six goals in seven matches entering the Clasico Joven, which isn't a great return for any team much less one with weapons like Peralta, Darwin Quintero, Silvio Romero and Renato Ibarra among its ranks.
But there Peralta was, putting Las Aguilas up with a signature header from a corner kick in the 29th minute and sealing things in the 82nd minute after Enzo Roco's sending-off with a goal on a breakaway. Peralta's status in the national team is interesting as well. He's not going to start for Mexico's strongest side, but could be an intriguing option for Juan Carlos Osorio off the bench at the Confederations Cup. His leadership and the skills he flashed Saturday also would be welcome in the Gold Cup, as they were in the Olympics before Peralta's tournament was cut short by an injury.
The more pressing concern now is with his club, though. If Peralta can up his scoring numbers, it would be a huge boost for America, which moved to 11th place with 10 points after the victory over its Mexico City rival (a team in disarray as Paco Jemez tries to figure out if there's a lineup that will work for him). We saw that El Cepillo still has it in him Saturday, but showing that with consistency would give America the scoring threat that thus far has been missing in the Clausura. Peralta, meanwhile, would be just as happy playing Cruz Azul every week. He's now scored in five consecutive games against La Maquina. Instead, former club Santos is up next.
QUERETARO IN THE PLAYOFF HUNT
Queretaro followed up a four-goal showing last weekend against a typically defensive Necaxa with another four-goal performance Saturday in a 4-3 victory over Pumas. That's remarkable progress from a team that at this time two weeks ago had scored three goals in six matches played.
The obvious difference is manager Jaime "Jimmy" Lozano, and the former Pumas midfielder definitely has his attack looking more comfortable. Angel Sepulveda popped up all over the place to trouble a Pumas side already susceptible to attacks after center back Gerardo Alcoba had to make way before halftime. Lozano, who took over at the start of the month, now has his team sitting in the eighth and final playoff place with 12 points.
"It was a decisive victory," Lozano said. "Today I'm happy and excited because of the players' support. I'm happy for them. For me, everything is about the players. It's the first game where we've been able to have stability, despite being scored on the team kept doing what it had to do and the reward came."
The defense has been stable all season, with the late goals from Pumas the first time any cracks have shown. The real question may be in the center of midfield, where there's no obvious candidate to break up attacks or recycle the ball. For now, chalk up Pumas' comeback to the Gallos Blancos defending a big lead for the first time this year, and take a look at Queretaro as a contender for a top-eight spot.
FEISTY MARTINEZ FITTING IN WITH SANTOS
Santos can't seem to stop getting draws, finishing level in its last four matches. And while Sunday's 2-2 stalemate with Necaxa was perhaps a bit disappointing for the team, it came at no fault of Osvaldo Martinez. The 30-year-old scored his first goal with the club since joining in the winter, and did it in some style.
That was hardly the only move the No. 10 started. Though Santos' second goal, scored by Djaniny, was assisted by Ulises Rivas, it's the Paraguyan who started the move with a quick turn in midfield. Martinez also earned a yellow card in the match and regularly mixed it up with Necaxa winger Edson Puch, going hard into tackles in the midfield.
Next up is a return to face former club America, though Martinez dismissed the idea that he'll be more motivated than usual in the Estadio Azteca.
"Playing against America is just another game," he said Sunday. "Right now I'm trying to live in the present with Santos. I'll try to do everything well. We've got to adjust a few details that right now are causing us to get draws as the visiting team as well as the home team."
The more comfortable Martinez feels behind a talented but often sloppy trident of forwards in front of him with Djaniny, Jonathan Rodriguez and Julio Furch up top, the better for a Santos team that, as Martinez said, is still failing to do some of the little things right.
TOULCA LACKING CRISPNESS
Toluca is celebrating its centennial this year and has been quietly excellent. An hour outside the capital, the Red Devils rarely get the attention they probably deserve, overshadowed by the giants in Mexico City. The lack of bright lights was a good thing in the Apertura, with the team falling well short of expectations. In its 100th year of existence, Toluca revamped, bringing in Rubens Sambeuza and Gabriel Hauche among others to bolster the side. It had been working, but Toluca fell off the top of the table Sunday with a 3-1 home defeat to Puebla.
Coach Hernan Cristante said the team won't make major changes after the disappointment, saying the method that has earned his side 16 points so far this tournament is still working.
"When things are going well, you have to keep working and when things go poorly I think you have to stay on the path you're on," he said. "I think today the team was beaten by the other side's determination. I'm the one who's at fault with that. I think I made a mistake with the selection of the starting XI."
The team wasn't crisp Sunday, allowing Puebla to play its game from the opening whistle. Toluca needs its swagger back if its going to stay in the title hunt. Cristante's planned modifications to his team may bring that change about next week as his team faces a tough trip to face Chivas.
GOAL OF THE WEEK
We'll go with this free kick from the left foot of Tijuana's Victor Malcorra.
Nobody seems as entertained by this as I am, but check this out on Jesus Gallardo's goal during Pumas' failed comeback against Queretaro. The Mexico international smashes it in and the ball just stays hung up in the net until someone goes and knocks it out.