The two Mexican sides playing Copa Libertadores this season, Leon and Santos Laguna, both starting their quest for the copa with wins this week. As always, the debate about which tournament should get the team's attention most raged on. And as always, the pundits say the teams choose the wrong one, whichever way the teams decide to go.
Santos Laguna and Leon have coaches who understand the importance of the tournament. More importantly, they have rosters that can make a serious run in the tournament. So it was nice to see them both trot out strong sides for their first tie of the group stage, despite both teams struggling early in the C14 season at home.
I, for one, have always thought that if a team is playing in the Libertadores, that is the tournament that should always take priority, for the sole reason that said team may not get the chance again.
They have a local tournament again in three months.
The Libertadores is also going to give some local players an added layer of auditions for the upcoming World Cup. And for the shoo-ins, they can sharpen their skills in a level of competition that is a little closer to what they will be up against in June.
Oribe Peralta, who has yet to score in the home league, got Santos' lone goal in the 1-0 win vs Arsenal de Sarandi. It's just like Peralta to start slow at home and then pick up the pace in outside tournament. Playing the extra games will certainly help him catch fire.
It is going to help Carlos Peña. The Leon midfielder did not have his best game vs Flamengo, but even on an off night "Gullit" showed enough of his quality that he could not be ignored. Besides, solid performances in this tournament coupled with more of the same in Brazil, will solidify his chances for a move across the pond.
And then there is Rafa Marquez, who just celebrated his 35th birthday. Rafa has been named captain, and is the only players assured of his spot in the final 23 for Brazil. With Mexico's defense looking shaky at best, he could stand to work on getting his pursuit angles just right, because he won't be catching up to anyone. 35 is a lot of years for a central defender, particularly one who has a history of nagging injuries, so Leon has already started to treat him like a Faberge egg. Muscle issues forced him to sit out of their game vs Pumas over the weekend. It would not be surprising to see Rafa's Liga MX minutes reduced in order to have him fully fit for the upcoming Libertadores ties.
The first round ends in early april, and the first rounds of the knockouts will take place before the tournament takes a back seat to the World Cup.