It was a weekend to forget for Liga MX. But it should be one the league remembers.
With the scandal of Tigres scoring during Veracruz's protest about unpaid wages, dozens injured as Queretaro's match at Atletico San Luis had to be suspended because of violence in the stands, and the players' union, owners and league officials talking past each other, this latest Jornada provided a reminder of all the things the league must take care of if it is to continue growing and maintain its status as the region's best.
Basic functions a league should be fulfilling are not being carried out. Players should be paid. Fans should be safe in the stadium. Communication between all involved parties should be clear and open.
In all that muck, soccer was played. The ball got rolling (in almost all cases after one minute of solidarity with the Tiburones Rojos players fighting for their checks), and the season carried on.
Somewhat following suit, we'll nod toward the issues but also take a look at the tiers of teams that have emerged with just five rounds left on the schedule and plenty of teams still in the hunt.
They can't coast, but these teams should start looking into logistics for the postseason.
Santos Laguna - At the top of the table and with a game in hand, Santos Laguna quietly is rolling along as the superlider. Los Guerreros could slip from the top with a pretty difficult lead-in that includes a number of other teams situated in the Liguilla spots and just two home games left, but they're not going to crater and miss the postseason – or even fall out of the top four. Brian Lozano has a strong case for best player of the season with seven goals and six assists.
Leon - JJ Macias has helped make sure last tournament's on-fire team didn't cool off, with Nacho Ambriz's squad sitting pretty just three points behind Santos on the top of the table.
Necaxa - Yes, somehow Necaxa is pretty much a lock. Guillermo Vazquez took a team with most of its better parts moved on elsewhere and has it sitting second in the table with only three defeats. Rayos likely will fall a bit – they haven't had their bye yet and Friday's enticing trip to Atlas, but other than that have only games against teams in the bottom half of the table remaining.
Tigres - I feel less certain about Tigres than Leon, who are on the same number of points and have the same number of matches played. That said, Tuca Ferretti teams generally get better as the season goes along. A three-match winning streak hints at that being the case again this season. The Veracruz incident can feed into a powerful 'us against them' mentality Tigres already feel with the jibes about being an "equipo chico". The schedule gives them three home matches plus trips to Queretaro and Juarez. They've also been the best team in the league against other squads currently in the top eight.
Queretaro - Somehow the Gallos Blancos have themselves in this position – with it being more of a surprise if they fell out of the playoffs than to see them included. It's been a strong effort from veteran manager Victor Manuel Vucetich to get them to this point. Though their victories haven't exactly come against the strongest of competition, they're beating the teams they're supposed to beat – and that's good enough to extend the season if it continues.
Well placed but work to do
If the season ended today, they'd be in. But they're candidates to get jumped.
Club America - A tough road draw, a blowout loss at home, a big win in the Clasico – that's America's last three results, and with a team this inconsistent it's tough to determine exactly where they're going to finish. The medical staff continues to get players back to fitness, which will help Miguel Herrera's squad, and the schedule looks pretty favorable, with Santos Laguna the only current top-eight team left on the schedule.
Atlas - Atlas' youth revolution is still probably a year or two away from coming to fruition, but getting back into the postseason would be a positive step. That said, the fixtures are looking pretty tough, with Necaxa in town this weekend and trips to Pumas and Rayados still on the docket.
Monarcas - The surprising hat trick from Sebastian Ferreira against Cruz Azul last weekend put Morelia in the final playoff spot. It's going to be a battle to keep it, with Friday's visit from top-of-the-table Santos a good barometer for us to determine if this team is actually turning things around or if it just hit a fortunate spell.
Outside looking in
These teams definitely can still get into the Liguilla but aren't currently in the top eight.
Pumas - Their defense is absolutely staunch, and if Michel can get Carlos Gonzalez or another attacking player heated up, Pumas might have a shot not only to make the final eight but to make some noise once there. That's a big if, however.
Tijuana - Oscar Pareja has to figure out how to get his defense to stop leaking goals for Xolos to extend their season. Only Veracruz has conceded more goals, and Santos cut through for four goals last weekend. If they can't tighten up, it won't matter what Camilo and Ariel Nahuelpan do up top.
Monterrey - After the Diego Alonso era came to an emphatic end with a rivalry loss to Tigres and a chaotic manager search took weeks to resolve, Rayados needed a strong statement in the first week back. Instead, it was a totally OK draw with visiting Chivas. Antonio Mohamed obviously knows the team well, but he'll also know his team needs to figure out how to get points – and fast. Otherwise, it will only be the Club World Cup they have to prepare for.
Pachuca - Several steps forward, then a big one back – that's too often been the formula for Tuzos this year. With Franco Jara on a roll, Victor Guzman showing well and a new crop of promising young players coming through, this team looks set for success. Then, it goes and drops a game like last weekend's 1-0 home loss to Juarez, and you're like, 'Why did I ever believe?' Their only win against a top-eight team came against Atlas. They'll have a chance to beat some better teams coming shortly.
Cruz Azul - With the exception of a trip to Atletico San Luis, every team still on the docket for La Maquina is in the playoff places at the moment. Going away to Tigres and Santos Laguna is going to be difficult to get anything out of, and a visit from Leon will be no picnic either. The signs of life shown against America before the international break quickly faded with a loss to Morelia, and so too are the hopes the capital club will be in postseason play.
Atletico San Luis - The ugly scenes in the stands Sunday masked another sub-par showing from the team on the field. If they could figure out how to win at home, San Luis would be a playoff lock. Instead, they have five points at home and 12 on the road thanks to four victories. Clearly, there's something there, so if San Luis can pull it together it may still have hope of the Liguilla in its first season back in the top division.
Better luck next tournament
Pack your bags, boys. Vacation begins after Jornada 19.
Chivas - Look, it's possible, but it's not likely. Chivas need to make up a six-point gap and jump seven teams in the process. A trip to Juarez this weekend may define whether the season – already seeming like a bit of a lame duck campaign with a new sporting director coming in and likely a new coach taking over in January – has any drama left in it for the flock to enjoy or if they're better off tracking the rumors about which players will arrive in the winter window.
Puebla - With impressive back-to-back wins against Leon and Tigres, you never know quite what to expect from La Franja, but generally you shouldn't be expecting all that much.
Juarez - While the schedule sets up nicely for Juarez and a 1-0 win against Pachuca last week will give them hope, Juarez is yet to prove it can string together serious results. None of its four wins comes against teams currently in the top eight, and the Bravos have scored multiple goals on just two occasions, against Veracruz and against Toluca.
Toluca - The Red Devils just don't seem to be clicking, and it's a surprise to still see Ricardo La Volpe on the touchline in Toluca. The attack hasn't been there since the sale of Alexis Vega, with Toluca currently having just 11 goals for, and it's now been a month since the club's last win.
Veracruz - No way.