Another enjoyable Liga MX tournament wrapped up Sunday, but it wasn't all balloons and birthday cake.
There were disappointing moments, like violence once again popping up around the game, coaching disappointments and entire cities that saw their teams deliver sub-par performances.
Violence before the Clasico Regio
A rivalry that had been neighbor against neighbor but with a friendly vibe took a dark turn this year. The Clasico Regio was the final in the previous Apertura, gifting us with amazing scenes of fans supporting their teams at training sessions and during matches. There was plenty of bullying and joking back and forth, but the whole event went off largely without a hitch.
This year's regular season match saw things turn ugly. Several members of Monterrey's supporters' group attacked a group of Tigres fans - most of whom fled. But they continued with a brutal attack on one who had fallen, an attack that left the man, Rodolfo Palomo, in the hospital for weeks.
The response wasn't heartening either. Police were filmed driving away from the incident rather than stopping it from happening.
And rather than trying to address the issue head-on, officials pointed out the incident took place far from a stadium and acted as though football had nothing to do with it. It suspends disbelief to think that people wearing shirts of the clubs on matchday had nothing to do with the game. This was a chance to make a statement, and instead officials mumbled through their lines until everyone moved on.
Pachuca has been an exciting team in the not-too-distant past, but this was a rough season for the Estadio Hidalgo faithful. They watched as Ayestaran took over with plans to make the playoffs, but Tuzos fell short for the second consecutive season.
Erick Gutierrez was sold off to PSV early in the campaign, but there is still plenty of talent in the squad. Yet Ayestaran wasn't able to get the best out of it, taking far too long to settle on a best position for versatile players like Victor Guzman and Erick Aguirre.
This offseason has seen several Liga MX veterans move to Pachuca, though many of the rising stars in the Grupo Pachuca system have gone from Chile's Everton to Leon. If Ayestaran can't get the team back in the postseason with a more experienced roster, fans will surely have had enough of the former Valencia and Las Palmas boss.
I'm not innocent on this one. I thought the battle between America's attack and Cruz Azul's defense would be incredible to watch. I thought we'd get at least 90 minutes of tactical chess between two managers who are very different but have plenty in common. I thought the meeting of two teams that call the Estadio Azteca home would be thrilling.
Instead, we got one half of decent football. The first leg saw both teams close up shop and look ahead to Sunday's deciding match. Even in that contest, Cruz Azul manager Pedro Caixinha was needlessly conservative - and he paid the price with the defeat.
It was the final many neutrals wanted, but it ended up being a pair of games that left us wanting much more.
VAR came to Mexico midway through the season after successful tests at the U-20 level. It's great to see the league adapting new technology, an area in which it has often lagged behind. Yet, the implementation certainly could've gone better.
In a league that is so poorly officiated and in which so many decisions change games in drastic ways, VAR could (and eventually will) be fundamental. The referees, however, need to get on the same page. Unlike in Serie A, MLS and the Bundesliga, the process seems full of secrecy.
Even in the final - OK, especially in the final - there were incidents that went to VAR that needed little review. Other incidents, like apparent handballs or punches being thrown, were overlooked.
Meanwhile, commentators seemed incensed when assistant referees took the totally reasonable posture of waiting to see what developed in the play before raising the offside flag. More education is needed for both the officials and the press for VAR to be a total success.
Teams from Guadalajara
This city might have the 'alma mas Mexicana' but it doesn't have a good Liga MX team at the moment.
Atlas knew it would be bad, but there was some hope that with Rafa Marquez involved on the sporting side of things that there would be improvement. Instead, the team finished above only Veracruz with just two wins. Angel Guillermo Hoyos had a bit of success after arriving during the season - but just a bit. Investment is needed, but it's easy to imagine the Argentine having a short leash and being let go after a tough stretch in the first several weeks of the season.
Chivas didn't manage to make the playoffs either but did head to the Club World Cup after winning the Concacaf Champions League in the spring. Once there, the club got off to a good start and promptly fell apart against Kashima Antlers. Fifth place is achievable, but honestly it might simply be time to look to the new season. Bringing in Toluca forward Alexis Vega and Queretaro center back Hiram Mier is a good start, but even more business will need to be done for the club to get back into the postseason, much less compete for titles.
Maybe next year will see a return of both teams to the Liguilla. It wasn't that long ago there was a Clasico Tapatio in the playoffs. The Apertura, though, will go down as a tournament to forget in Guadalajara, no matter which team you support.