Brent Latham: Tijuana and Leon opposites since Apertura semifinal

Since their meeting in the Apertura playoff, upstarts Tijuana and Leon have had very different experiences

As recently as last season, Club Tijuana and Club Leon had plenty in common. This year, not so much.

The seasons changed, and last Apertura’s semifinal opponents have become reverse case studies in how to manage sudden success. Both made the semifinals after finishing near the top of the table; only Club Tijuana looks like it might be headed back this year.

Without winning a match this weekend, however Club Leon managed another stride towards becoming, somewhat surprisingly, one of Mexico’s big clubs.

Twenty thousand supporters followed the Esmeraldas to Guadalajara to watch their team battle Chivas. The visitors fell, 2-1, and continued what’s been a disappointing season. Buried in 16thplace after eight rounds, the deep green club not only has a big time following, but has made some other mistakes that big clubs seem to make.

To begin with, bringing in Rafa Marquez was hardly a masterstroke. The player and the team alienated many others around Mexican football by coming to an agreement behind the back of historic giant Atlas, which seemed by (gentleman’s) rights to have first dibs on the returning defender.

Money said otherwise, and the long-time El Tri captain has had the usual ups and downs with the Esmeraldas, including temper tantrums, unnecessary and unhelpful declarations in the media, and coming off the crucial Copa Libertadores home leg match after just five minutes with an injury.

There was other tomfoolery in Leon as well. For better or worse, parent club Pachuca decided to offload the mercurial Nery Castillo to Leon after a mediocre tournament in Hidalgo. The results in Leon thus far: 5 games, 235 minutes and 0 goals. That, for a team that had admirably level production from across the payroll last season, and was by no means in need of another goal scorer.

The retooled Leon flamed out of the Copa Libertadores at the play-in round, and has won just one match of eight thus far in the Clausura.

Farther north, Club Tijuana is the opposite story. The Xolos hardly touched a thing compared to the Apertura 2012. Only two players came in, and one left, from a squad that management deemed good enough to begin with.

Rightfully so, you may say - the Xolos won the Apertura title. It should be obvious to leave well enough alone.

But it wasn’t at Club Leon. While the Xolos sit squarely in fourth in the Clausura, and in the driver’s seat in its Copa Libertadores group, the Esmeraldas are floundering with their new, more expensive squad.

It’s a lesson that big clubs have learned over and over in Mexico: money can’t always buy more wins. For Club Leon, whose management and fans aspire to the big time, this probably isn’t the rich club lesson they wanted to learn first.