Mexico City clubs roar back in Apertura after Monterrey dominance

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Elias Hernandez Cruz Azul
Azael Rodriguez
America leads the league with Cruz Azul and Pumas right behind. How did the capital's clubs get back on top after last year's Final Regia?

Not 12 months ago, the eyes of Mexican soccer were fixed on Monterrey. The Northern city had both its teams - Rayados and Tigres - into the final of the league for the first time and looked destined to dominate the foreseeable future in Liga MX.

The next tournament, the big-spending clubs were bounced in the first round of the Liguilla. Monterrey manager Antoinio Mohamed decided to try his luck in Europe, and the team embarked on a rebuild. Tigres continued on with Tuca Ferretti, but are struggling to reach the heights they have in past Aperturas. This tournament, it's been all about the Mexico City teams.

With Pumas set to host Cruz Azul on Sunday afternoon at a sold-out Estadio Olimpico, it's worth looking at how the balance of power has shifted back toward the capital after it looked like La Sultana del Norte's teams would reign supreme for years to come.

You knew things would be different from the fourth week of this tournament. The three Mexico City clubs were all top three for the first time since the 2006 Apertura - together on top after more than a decade. We'd seen fluke starts from Pumas and Cruz Azul in the recent past, but this week the teams are still in the top four - with Torreon-based Santos Laguna the lone interloper.

The final can be seen as a wake-up call for the clubs. The Mexico City teams make up three of Liga MX's four 'grandes,' the traditional big clubs with a history of winning titles and having the largest fan bases. There is frequent, tired debate about if a team like Tigres is becoming the fifth grande, but the clubs had to be tired of losing titles even to teams like Santos. It's not a given that a team from Mexico City wins the trophy this year, though Cruz Azul topping Monterrey in Rayados' Estadio BBVA Bancomer is another bit of evidence that the power has shifted.

What sparked the change? Mostly spending. Tigres and Rayados are both backed by deep-pocketed companies heavily invested in making the clubs in the soccer-crazed city successful. But Cruz Azul, backed by the cement company of the same name, a rival to Tigres' owners Cemex, decided this year would be different. With its last league title coming all the way back in 1997, the club spent not only to hire Pedro Caixinha as manager at the start of the calendar year but also brought in sporting director Ricardo Pelaez in the summer 

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It's a strategy they've seen their neighbors employ with some success. Key America players like goalkeeper Agustin Marchesin, midfielder Guido Rodriguez, center back Emanuel Aguilera, and forwards Oribe Peralta and Henry Martin all were brought in after showing they could stand out in Liga MX with other clubs. Pumas didn't sign a single player this summer who didn't boast Liga MX experience, with Carlos Gonzalez, Felipe Mora and Victor Malcorra all making immediate contributions. 

The expectations have shifted once again, and the big clubs in the capital are once again expecting to win silverware. "It was a long time without winning anything for Cruz Azul. It makes me happy for my ex-teammates, I saw how they struggled," said Mora, who signed with Pumas on loan from Cruz Azul. "Now I'm with Pumas and I'm thinking about Pumas."

Pumas are thinking about Cruz Azul, with the second weekend in a row that a Clasico has captured attention in the capital and surrounding region. Monterrey teams won't go quietly - not this year and certainly not in this winter's transfer market - but there's no doubt that right now the balance of power in Mexican club football is back in Mexico City.