‘NAFTA effect’ on display in Liga MX

With four weeks left in the Apertura’s regular season, Liga MX has settled into a few familiar pattern: Teams in the Liguilla (playoff) spots won, while those with little hope accepted defeat. In sum, the rich got richer and the poor wallowed in misery, something akin to a “NAFTA effect.”

At the bottom, Puebla and the Leones Negros (Club University of Guadalajara) played out a tepid 1-1 draw that contained perhaps 20 minutes of decent soccer. If you were watching on your computer, you were definitely multi-tab browsing, maybe checking out some wicked cool vines of growing grass. The game couldn’t have been doing it for you.

Despite playing at home, Puebla (aside from Esiner Loboa) struggled to break down the Leones. The owners had reduced ticket prices to only 50 pesos, but despite a full house, Puebla was still short of ideas. As if inspired by David Moyes’s Manchester United, the Camoteros lacked coherency, fluidity, and creativity in the attacking third, so when Club University tied the game on a counter-attack, Puebla turned to a geriatric Cuauhtémoc Blanco. Little changed. The home side just didn’t have enough incentive to take risks.

We talked about it before in out piece on relegation, but the porcentaje system helps produce these types of results. It’s rigged to favor bigger clubs. Strugglers like Puebla, relying on last season’s points to stay up, play negatively against newcomers like the Leones Negros. They scrape together the points they need to keep relegation in the distance, while promoted clubs (unless you’re a potential/returning power, like León) become hamstrung by their slow starts.

Thus, after a draw at home, Puebla still has a superior coefficient of 1.01 to Club University’s 0.86. Chivas lost away to León but still looks down upon both. Rojiblancos fans have not yet invented a song to celebrate their mighty 1.025 coefficient, but if they stay up they must might.

Meanwhile, higher up the standings, Cruz Azul, in true Cruz Azul fashion, lost 1-0 to Tigres and is a point out of the Liguilla. Despite being in the capital and boasting superior resources, the club almost always finds a way to fail (last Champions League being the exception that proves the rule). Snatching mediocrity from the jaws of victory has become its specialty, and this weekend, things stunk from the start. Gerardo Lugo scored from distance with acres of space at the 14 minute mark, Cruz Azul ended with two players getting expulsado, and the Máquina finds itself on the outside looking in. Perhaps they should sign and nationalize even younger Argentines for the Clausura?

Across town, Club América (the team you hate [or don’t –ed.]) sits comfortably in first, holding a four-point lead after easing past fifth place Monterrey, 2-0 at home. After a goalless and even first half, América dominated the right flank, and Pablo Aguilar notched the opening goal on a lovely header at the far post. Most encouraging for Americanistas, Oribe Peralta scored a goal off his pure sweat, outmuscling a centerback to a long ball over the top before rounding the keeper with ease.

Perhaps remarkably, that was it in Liga MX: A typically, mid-tournament round, producing a series of predictable results. Thankfully, Friday gives us something to break it up (Ronaldinho and Querétaro hosts América), but if you missed the past weekend, you didn’t miss much. Some good fútbol, sure, but América’s still setting the pace, the Leones are still struggling for survival, and the Liguilla is still a ways off.