Wild and Wooly Mexican Primera kicks off tonight

I have been watching the Mexican League for over 30 years. The only thing I can feel safe predicting about the Mexican League is that it is wildly unpredictable. And for the upcoming Clausura 2009, I don't expect anything different.

Mexico's League isn't like the ones in Europe, where only a small handful of teams have a realistic chance of winning. They do have a big 4, but in name only. Club America CD Guadalajara, UNAM, and Cruz Azul have only combined to win a total of 7 of the 23 short season tournaments since the format change in 1996. Toluca, on the other hand, who should be one of the "gigantes" has won 6. Pachuca has won 5, and Santos has 3. All seven of these teams seem to figure in the run up to the title this time around. But who knows?

If the short 17 game season isn't quirky enough, the Mexican primera then divides the teams into 3 groups of 6. The top 2 in each group, plus the 2 best 3rd place teams qualify for the liguilla-- a month long playoff that will determine the champion. The goofy thing about the groups is that they are groups in name only. There is no added benefit in beating a team in the group. Group teams do not face each other twice. It is still a round robin tournament. What inevitably happens is that the teams that are 7th and 8th in the table aren't necessarily going to make the liguilla because they maybe 4th in their group. Quirky indeed!

For the past few tournaments, the teams that have finished atop the table have not won the league. In fact, only 5 of the past 23 league toppers have gone through the liguilla as champions.

As defending champion, Toluca should be the favorites, but a poor showing in the Interliga may temper their expecations. America made wholesale changes, and has given their coach Ramon "el pelado" Diaz a 4 game ultimatum. Who knows what to make of them. The young Chivas won the Interliga and look poised for a run. They do have the Libertaodres to play as well, though, so a late season falter may not be a surprise. Cruz Azul, Santos, San Luis, and Pumas all seem to have what it takes, but no one really stands out.

The fact is that it is anyone's guess who will emerge as champions. But if I had to take a stab at it...

Cruz Azul atones for its finals failures over the last two tournaments. Indios de Cd. Juarez' stay in the top flight only lasts one year.