I’ll admit it. It is hard to get back into the swing of another futbol season so soon after the World Cup, but that is exactly what we have ahead this weekend as the Mexican Apertura 2010 gets underway. As always, a bushel of teams have legitimate aspirations to lift the trophy. Some of the favorites will live up to the hype. Others will crash spectacularly, and a few teams will come out of nowhere to contend for the title. This is not a league in which a few teams dominate the title chase, and that is why the MFL is one of the most entertaining leagues in the world.
So who gets tagged with the contender label?
Toluca is a good place to start.
The Diablos Rojos won their 10th title last year, beating Santos via spot kicks. The choriceros tied Club America and are only one behind Guadalajara for most titles.
Toluca did not make any major changes to its roster. Jose Manuel “Chepo” de la Torre, who is the favorite to take the helm of the National Team, has done an excellent job of blending youth, experience, local talent and foreigners into a cohesive unit. There are rumors, though, that Toluca might lose its goal scorer, Chile’s Hector Mancilla, to Europe. No problem, talented youngster Raul Nava is more than able to take his place.
Last year’s other champion, Monterrey, is another strong candidate. Rayados welcome back their Chilean goal-scorer, Humberto "el Chupete" Suazo, which should make their attack that much more devastating. Monterrey is a team that has no problem spending money to bring in talent, but their ascension to the top tier can be attributed as much to the performance of their youth system products as their high-priced signings. Abraham Carreño filled in very nicely for Suazo last year and has the potential to be a devastating striker for Monterrey and beyond. Jonathan Orozco is probably the most underrated goalkeeper in Mexico and should have gone to the World Cup.
Victor Manuel Vucetich has done well everywhere he has coached, and he continues to press the right buttons to get good results in Monterrey. The city’s other team, though, Tigres, has pushed buttons, pulled levers, consulted psychics, lit candles, and spent wads of cash to be competitive. Unfortunately, the only competition Tigres in which Tigres has been in the fight the last few years is the one for relegation.
And they’ll be in it again this year. This year, the tea leaves told the brass to get Tuca Ferretti, lately of Pumas, and a whole bunch of new players. We’ll see.
One Santos Laguna’s favorite sons, the venerable Rodrigo “el pony” Ruiz is back in La Comarca Lagunera. Pony complements an already talented squad that also gets back Edgar Benitez off a loan spell in Birmingham City and the player with the best nick-name in organized sport: Carlos Darwin Quintero, better known as el cientifico del gol --the Goal Scientist.
The Mexico City teams all have distinct issues of their own. Whether they have a fgood team or not, Club America’s fans always expect their beloved aguilas to contend for the title. The man to deal with these expectations is Manuel Lapuente, who is back at Coapa for the third time. They also signed Vicente Sanchez, an Uruguayan forward who had great success in Toluca, from Schalke 04.
Cruz Azul fans have seen their cementeros fall painfully short in their last 5 cup finals. The MFL bridesmaids have also lost a number of players from last year’s squad, including Christian Riveros, the Paraguayan midfielder who signed with Sunderland. Add to that an emerging financial scandal, and it might be a long season in land of cement. One bright spot, though: Martin Galvan, the 17 year old phenom should make his MFL debut this year.
Pumas UNAM lost its two best players, Pablo Barrera and Efrain Juarez, to Europe. And for the third year in row, they failed to sign any additional players. The team has long been defined by its youth system's success, so hopefully some future stars are on the way. Tuca Ferretti, the coach emeritus of the MFL (at four seasons), is cashing bigger checks at Tigres. No team has bigger question marks in the MFL. Well, maybe one team does.
CD Guadalajara’s hot start last season fizzled once their national team players reported for World Cup Duty. It was one and done for them in the Liguilla, but Chivas stayed alive in the Libertadores thanks to great performances from its youngsters and one Omar Bravo.
One question still lingers, though. Where is the offense going to come from? While Bravo is headed to MLS, and Chicharito to Old Trafford, team owner Jorge Vergara is betting on Chivas’ youth products to pick up the scoring slack. Guadalajara’s attack gets a huge boost, however, as the oft-injured forward Omar Arellano looks to finally be healthy, for now.
Estadio Movistar on the outskirts of Guadalajara
Chivas will also debut it’s futuristic new spaceship landing on a volcano:
Estadio Movistar. Nice looking stadium.
Too bad about the fieldturf, though
With Chivas’ departure to its new digs, Atlas has the Jalisco all to itself. The Academicos coach, Carlos Ischia, asked for and was granted wholesale changes in the squad, including the incorporation of striker Alfredo “el chango” Moreno and Paraguay’s Enrique Vera. Now the pressure is on. Can Ischia do what no other Atlas coach has done since 1951? Doubtful.
One of the more colorful coaches in the MFL, Miguel “el piojo” Herrera, has Guadalajara’s third team, Estudiantes Tecos, in an unenviable postion. He has decent players, but virtually no fan support. One of Mexico’s bright, young prospects, Taufic Guarch, is on the senior squad and should debut soon.
Monarcas Morelia has done very well in the last two regular seasons, but has flopped in the liguilla. They have the players to contend again. Winger Elias Hernandez has blossomed under Tomas Boy, who also has one of the strongest group of foreign players in the league.
Pachuca will be making its third appearance in four years at the World Club Championships. They have also added Hercules Gomez to a very good roster. Braulio Luna is also set to play in la bella airosa. The tuzos should contend again.
There is no more entertaining coach in the League than el Chelis. Jose Luis Sanchez Sola is back at Puebla after quitting for the umpteenth time. Puebla’s organization is a mess, but Chelis deflects all the BS off his players. The players, in turn, play their asses off for him. They may not be the best team in the league, but they never quit.
San Luis was nothing more than a Club America satellite team for the past few years, but now looks to be breaking away from Big Brother. They only traded 2 players this off-season. Ignacio Ambriz stayed on as coach even after a subpar season, but a lack of results put him squarely on the hottest of hot seats.
Atlante gets to play in Cancun. Which means their players get to live in Cancun. One would think that would be an advantage. The hipocampos completely overhauled their offense, bring in Ulises Mendivil and Luis Angel Landin, (tough break, going from Houston to the Riviera Maya) which should be two very decent targets for Christian Bermudez. El hobbit continues to impress, but no one seems to look past his stature.
Jaguares, Queretaro, and the recently promoted Necaxa may turn out to have decent seasons, but their attentions will be focused more on the relegation battle. The Chiapas side does possess a budding superstar, Colombian Jackson Martinez. Someone will make them an offer they can’t refuse. Especially when they face the real possibility relegation.
So hoists the trophy come December? In the Wild and Wooly MFL, there is never a clear-cut favorite. A team could be miles from everyone at the top of the table, but a bad 20 minutes in the liguilla can shatter dreams. The best way to handicap the MFL is to see who the hottest team is at the end of the year. The last three champs were just that. I’ll stick with my guns, though, and pick Morelia for the third straight season.