For the ninth straight season, the CONCACAF Champions League has left it clear: Liga MX is the best league in the region.
Sadly, we've been denied the opportunity to see how Mexican clubs stack up in the rest of the Americas because of a schedule switch to the Copa Libertadores, but we know that in Liga MX we're enjoying a high-quality product.
And as the teams look to sort out the Liguilla places, with many pushing to get in and other clinging to their spot with everything they have, we're in for what looks to be another quality week. Let's dive into what everyone is talking about ahead of Round 13:
It's a big weekend for ... Paco Palencia
Paco Palencia is in an interesting position. One of the few young Mexican managers given a shot, the 43-year-old metal head provides a bit of variation in a league that too often seems to consist entirely of cranky old Argentine managers (with the occasional exception for a cranky young Argentine manager or a cranky Tuca Ferretti).
But to keep one of those curmudgeons from taking your job, you have to get results. Palencia did so in the first tournament under his watch, getting to the Liguilla but failing to supersede anything Guillermo Vázquez (not actually that cranky, Mexican) was able to do in his reign.
The offseason signing of Nicolas Castillo and Palencia's faith in young players has changed that a bit, with the Chilean forward and Mexico winger Jesus Gallardo leaving an attack that has scored 20 goals this tournament, more than any team south of Tijuana. But issues with an aging back line and the lack of a hardened midfield stopper has the team sitting sixth. It's a good position in the table, but also a perilous one. Go on a bad snap, and you might be missing out on the postseason entirely. Get a few results, you could be hosting the second leg of a series or two.
This weekend, Toluca comes to town, and the unlikely leader can cause plenty of problems. It's also an opportunity for Palencia to show that his team can shut down a side that has been able to get results but that largely does so in underwhelming fashion.
Don't miss ... Tijuana vs. Club America
The distance between Mexico City and Tijuana is great. Geographically as well as culturally, the two cities are very far apart. But on the soccer field, the differences aren't all that profound. In fact, there are strong connections between capital side Club America, which visits the border city Friday, and Xolos. For one, there's an interchange of managers and players. While Las Aguilas once benefited from coach Antonio Mohamed, Tijuana now has ex-America coach Miguel Herrera in its employ.
Now, it seems the pipeline may be shut off — or at least slowing to a trickle. America tried to bring in Tijuana's attacking dynamo Aviles Hurtado during the offseason only to have the attempted switch rebuffed. And there's also the Copa MX match between the two teams earlier this season, when Tijuana earned a controversial 1-0 victory that ended with America center back Pablo Aguilar making contact with the referee.
Like Aguilar, Herrera is suspended for this game, but Friday's weekend opener is set to be a thriller even with the absences on each side. Hurtado is in rare form, sitting just two off the league lead with six goals. Meanwhile, America comes in having won its last two, with Oribe Peralta's strange goal giving the team the win over Monterrey and a wild 3-2 victory over Pumas before the international break. America is a team that aspires to win championships.
At the moment, Ricardo La Volpe's side still looks far from that, but a win over a talented Xolos team would provide a boost both in the table and in motivation. Of course, Estadio Caliente is one of the most difficult stadiums to look out for. All of that adds up to give us the rare Friday match of the weekend.
Keep an eye on ... Santos on Sunday
Santos Laguna can't decide what it is. Is it a team that's going to get into the playoffs and, behind its good home form and strong defense, pull an upset or two? Or is it going to shrink away, drop more points and fall out of the top eight entirely? It's easy to forget the Guerreros have lost just once this tournament, partly because they've also won only three times.
Sunday will be a match to watch with Pachuca, fresh off a win over FC Dallas to get into the CONCACAF Champions League semifinal, visits the Estadio Corona. All three of Santos' victories have come there, but with Hirving Lozano back from injury for Pachuca and Franco Jara also in good form, it will have its hands full at the back — and may need to find a goal or two to get all three points.
It will have to do it without forward Jonathan Rodriguez, who is still on the injured list, but Osvaldo Martinez's setup for Djaniny last week in a 1-0 win over Queretaro showed there's still pep in the attack at times. Sunday's contest against a good team will give us a better idea if we're dealing with a contender or something else. Alternatively, it could give us yet another stalemate, at which point we'll throw up our hands and decide to predict Santos draws for every match for the rest of the season.
Quote of the Week
"My intention is to stay, but I don't want to be an obstacle" — Antonio Mohamed, Monterrey manager
The local fans took Monterrey's cup defeat to Chivas pretty hard, with some jeering Mohamed and even going as far as to say they want the manager out. It's true he hasn't always lived up to expectations, but the expectations for "El Turco" are pretty high. After all, he won league titles with both Tijuana and Club America, and at Monterrey he has the resources to build another impressive side.
His future is up in the air, though with Rayados sitting third in the league, a Liguilla run is hardly out of the question — something that surely would change fans' mind. This week the club has an opportunity to bounce back, hosting Chiapas.