The layoff wasn't all that long, but it sure seemed to be longer than a month (and it was even longer for me as I was immersed in College Football in the Fall). Regardless, Liga MX kicked off their Clausura 13 season this past weekend. In a league this wildly unpredictable, how much can we read in the tea leaves that were left behind after each team took a sip. Quite a bit actually.
1. Rafa Marquez' adjustment to the league will lake a lot longer than he thinks. It's no secret that Rafa exerted more energy endorsing those huge paychecks than anything he did on the pitch while at RBNY, but he also found out the hard way that Liga MX is nothing like it was when he left. This is not 1999, Rafa, where Mexican soccer was played at best at lively trot. While it's not played at a full gallop, either, the speed of the game has increased significantly, which Rafa discovered as he saw the embattled Queretaro players catch him out twice for equalizers. One thinks that Rafa will get his sea legs back, but Red Bull fans were thinking the same thing for two seasons. But Rafa didn't need his legs to endorse all those checks.
2. Hector Herrera and Carlos Peña may play themselves into Chepo's long-term plans. One of the lasting images of the weekend was seeing how eloquently Pachuca honored their fallen hero, Miguel Calero, in their home opener. Their players dressed in one of Calero's outfits and posed like him in their team photo. As great as that moment was a before the game, Hector Herrera gifted Pachuca fans with the best goal of the week. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ta9E3qYfgAc
In just one short season, Gullit Peña has quickly established himself as one of the league's premier midfielders. He may not have scored vs Queretaro(he was denied by some great saves), but no holding midfielder has as much offensive pop as the Leon midfielder. Their defending, though, could use a bit of work, and if they improve that aspect, they are both going to force Chepo de la Torre to make some interesting choices this summer.
3. Will Tijuana have enough players to deal with two tournaments? Tijuana does not bitch about their travel schedule, but last season they did not have 3 intercontinental trips to deal with like they will this season. Add that to an already grueling travel schedule, and we might be seeing some tired dogs come April. It could play into why Tijuana does not play a more up-tempo style, which has served them well. But it's a style that is better suited to having the lead. Xolos may not be so fortunate this time around, and they are definitely going to need to take some more risks in th e Libertadores.
4. Club America is poised to make a run at the title. They are well coached, have solidified their back line, trimmed some of the dead wood, and will not have any extra tournaments to play like the other Liga MX front runners. If they could somehow find a way to make their home field a little more intimidating (i.e. make the Azteca less cavernous), they should be one of the few teams left standing in the Spring.
5. Chivas should be better. Should be. Guadalajara's owner caught a lot of flack last week for his decision to dump the last vestiges of the Cruyff regime, John Van't Schip, two days before the season started. It's no secret that Vergara has made a mess of Chivas. And that's just the point. He is the owner, he has every right to make a mess of his team. By Liga MX standards, he is no better or no worse than 80% of the league.
They are his chips. Don't like it? Get your own chips.
The moves he made should play off. Should. Benjamin Galindo, dumped by Santos just one season after winning it all, knows exactly what it means to be part of the Sacred Herd. And Miguel Sabah gives Chivas the scoring threat they have been lacking since the Little Pea roamed the Jalisco. It was, in fact, Sabah who got the late equalizer vs Toluca, but it was also Sabah who got a red card for kicking a Toluca player in the face. Galindo will bring discipline back to the team, and the Chiverio is hoping he'll do a whole lot more.
6. Tigres made the best off season signing. It did not take Emanuel Villa long to match last season's scoring output with Pumas, where he was forgotten by not one, or two, but three coaches. His hat trick against Jaguares was a reminder that not only does he have plenty of cunning to find the net, but also that he makes a supremely talented team that much stronger. They will be a force in Liga MX and (if Tuca goes full strength) the CCL.
7. The Relegation fight might be the most entertaining race of the season. Both Queretaro and Atlas fought hard to get well deserved draws, which leaves them still deadlocked in the drop zone. They won't stray that much from each other, so it will be a fight to the finish to see which team will suck less.