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Liga MX: Why does Mexican soccer league split into Apertura & Clausura seasons?

You may not be too familiar with the way that Mexico's Liga MX splits itself into two seasons: the Apertura and Clausura.

Deviating from the traditional European football season where a single campaign stretches over the better part of the year, Liga MX has a completely different structure and crowns not one winner, but two.

So how exactly does Liga MX work, and why does it split itself into two seasons? Goal takes a look.

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On this page

  1. What is the format of Liga MX?
  2. How is CONCACAF Champions League qualification decided?
  3. Why does Liga MX split into two sections?
  4. Do other leagues split into two sections?

What is the format of Liga MX?

In Liga MX, the season is divided into two league tournaments - the Apertura (meaning 'Opening') and the Clausura (meaning 'Closing').

The Apertura runs from July to December and the Clausura runs from January to May.

Each league competition is exactly the same in format, with 18 teams competing and playing each other once. The league section is then followed by play-offs - known as La Liguilla, meaning 'short league'. 

The top four teams automatically qualify for the Liguilla quarter-finals, with the other four places decided through another mini-tournament involving the eight teams that finish 5th to 12th in the league.

Each season, therefore, the Liga MX crowns a champion twice - the Apertura champion and the Clausura champion. The winners of each then face off in the Campeon de Campeones game in July.

Over the course of the two tournaments the host team is flipped so that every team plays home and away against every other team. 

Relegation from the top flight is still in play in Liga MX, though it is severely limited by league rules. Few of the lower-league sides meet the lofty standards required to play in Liga MX. 

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How is CONCACAF Champions League qualification decided?

Four Liga MX teams qualify for the CONCACAF Champions League. The general rule is that the Apertura and Clausura champions along with the runners-up qualify.

However, it is not always so straightfoward since occasionally the same teams will contest both the Apertura and Clausura play-off finals.

In order to ensure two teams qualify from the Apertura section and two teams qualify from the Apertura section, Liga MX follows a number of approaches:

  • If the same two teams contest the Apertura and Clausura finals, those teams qualify along with the two teams who have the best record in the Apertura and Clausura respectively.
  • If the same team wins the Apertura and the Clausura, facing two different teams in the finals, then the place reserved for the Clausura champions passes to the runners-up, while the place that was reserved for the Clausura runners-up goes to the team with the best Clausura record.
  • In the event that the Apertura runners-up wins the Clausura (playing different teams in the finals), then Apertura runners-up spot passes to the non-finalist team with the best Apertura record. The same principle applies if the Apertura champions are Clausura runners-up.

It is a little bit complicated, but it works.

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Why does Liga MX split into two sections?

The thought process behind the split season is to create a better product and, in turn, generate more revenue.

The draw of the shorter tournaments is that more is left riding on each match, in theory creating more excitement and buzz, which leads to larger audiences and, in the long run, more money.

Since the 1996 season, Mexico has used the split-season system that confirms two winners – but in different formats.

Initially, Liga MX played a separate winter and summer tournament, but the league now observes the Apertura season from July to December and Clausura season, from January to May.

The opening tournament is played at the end of the calendar year and the closing tournament at the start of the year keep Liga MX in line with the FIFA calendar.  

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Do other leagues split into two sections?

The two-season format is popular across many Central and South American countries, with Mexico far from the only one to adopt a split league.

Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica and Paraguay are all nations who either currently do or have in the past observed a split-season format, though how the competitions are carried out may differ from country to country.

Argentina no longer uses two seasons with the Primera Division having switched to a single-table format.

The two-season format was also used by two of Asia's biggest leagues, with both Japan and Korea having used it at various times, though the format is not currently being used by the top flight in either country. 

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