It's all downhill from here.
Well, at least it is in some respects. We're entering the second half of the season, and the race for Liguilla positions or against relegation is tightening. But it's also been several weeks running now when the headlines from Liga MX are more about discipline - or the lack of it.
What would cure these ailments and get us back on a positive trajectory? An exciting weekend of action on the field. This could be the one to deliver it. Let's take a look at the talking points ahead of Round 10 of the Clausura...
It's a big weekend for ... Carlos Esquivel
Remember this guy? In the not-too-distant past, Carlos Esquivel was a difference-maker for several years, earning a dozen Mexico caps in the process. And, really, as he closes in on 400 appearances for the Red Devils, you have to put him down as a Toluca legend. His chase for that mark has slowed this year, though, as offseason additions Rubens Sambueza and Gabriel Hauche have locked up starting roles. Now, with both suspended for this week's match after being sent off in last week's 2-0 loss to Chivas, the 34-year-old will need to step up.
Things seem to be crashing down around Hernan Cristante's squad, though you can't pin much of the blame on Esquivel. In Wednesday's Copa exit that saw Toluca finish the match with eight men, Esquivel scored in regulation and then took the goalkeeper's gloves when Alfredo Talavera earned a sending off. He didn't stop a single shot in the penalty shootout but was far more frustrated
"We quit doing a lot of things," he said. "The team had control and we believed in ourselves and unfortunately we lost. We tried to defend, but that's how it goes in penalties; we took them poorly and now we have to lift our head up."
Sunday against Cruz Azul, he'll be in a much more familiar role and can make inroads with Cristante. With Sambueza and Enrique Triverio both facing the potential of longer suspensions than the mandated one match, Esquivel could once again prove his worth for the club he first lined up for more than a decade ago.
Don't miss ...Tigres vs. Chivas
It always felt like this run was coming. Tigres are too deep, too stacked, too ... good to just totally miss the playoffs. After weeks of poor results, Tigres are now the hottest team in league play, undefeated in their last three (special mention to Atlas, which also has avoided defeat the last three weeks.)
This weekend, Chivas visit El Volcan, and while Tigres are on a roll, there's a reason Tigres tops the league. This game pits two teams that have found a good balance. Both have explosive attacks that work best when the star forward - Andre-Pierre Gignac for Tigres, Alan Pulido for Chivas - is finding the ball and converting chances. Both also have players behind them, in Tigres' Eduardo Vargas and Chivas' Rodolfo Pizarro, who can pick up the slack if Plan A isn't working.
Despite their star-studded attacks, both teams also have defenses they can trust to make plays with Juninho and Hugo Ayala in the middle for Tigres and Oswaldo Alanis and Carlos Salcido for Chivas (Jair Pereira is suspended). And it's no accident that Tigres' return to normalcy coincided with goalkeeper Nahuel Guzman's return from injury.
This is a game between two similar teams, and, despite what Tigres' point total may say, two of the best teams in the league. It should be the best match of the weekend.
Keep an eye out for ... fireworks in the north
The weekend closes out with Monterrey making the quick trip to Santos, and both northern teams are in interesting positions. Each maintained an undefeated record until recently, but in Monterrey's case the lack of results away from home and for Santos the sheer number of draws rather than victories were causes for concern.
Monterrey blew out Queretaro last weekend, with Edwin Cardona shining in a game that could've been more lopsided than the 4-1 final score. Santos will be eager to bounce back from its first loss of the year.
There's probably more history between Monterrey's other team, Tigres, and the Guerreros, but all the northern teams like to get one over on the other and give their fans bragging rights. There might be more fuel on the fire this time around with long-time Rayados goalkeeper Jonathan Orozco now the Santos No. 1 after an offseason goalkeeper carousel sent Orozco to Monterrey, Agustin Marchesin from Santos to America and Hugo Gonzalez from the capital to Monterrey.
"He's a great guy," Orozco told Multimedios of Santos president Alejandro Irarragorri. "I never had a good relationship with Monterrey's directors. It was always cordial, but it never was... It never was treatment where they called me and here everything is different. My grandfather died and they called me, they sent me messages, they're always there for you and seeing how they can help you."
Orozco will have plenty to do with Cardona, Dorlan Pabon and Rogelio Funes Mori combining for nine goals so far this year.
Quote of the Week
Ricardo La Volpe no quiso hablar a su llegada a la CDMX, pero sí accedió a firmar un autógrafo a un pequeño aficionado americanista. pic.twitter.com/nsd9h6PtlK— Rubén Beristáin (@Ruben_Beristain) March 9, 2017
Sometimes it's what's not said that means the most.
America coach Ricardo La Volpe and defender Pablo Aguilar both avoided speaking to the press upon returning to Mexico City on Thursday after Wednesday's Copa MX defeat in Tijuana. That match saw Aguilar make contact with the referee after the game, a move that likely will have him suspended for some time. America is just one point out of the Liguilla and hosts Necaxa on Saturday in the Estadio Azteca, where both teams played for years before Necaxa moved to Aguascalientes.