Querétaro and América showed why bad defending remains a virtue in Liga MX

It was one of the most exciting games of Liga MX’s season – one that lived up to the hype. Querétaro, struggling to regain traction at the edge of the Liguilla race, toppled league-leading América, 3-2, thanks to a late goal from Camilo Sanvezzo. Though the pregame buzz was focused on the scoring streak of Mexican striker Oribe Peralta and, of course, Querétaro’s buck-toothed, grinning Brazilian, Ronaldinho, it was Sanvezzo who stole the show, scoring two twice and assisting on the Gallos Blancos’ other goal.

It was a command performance from the former Vancouver Whitceap, albeit one that was sure to leave soccer purists asking: Just how bad is the defending in Liga MX?

To answer that, one must first ask: How good is are attacks? One need not look much farther than the native son, Peralta. Coming off had a very good World Cup (not to mention an Olympic Gold from 2012), the former Santos Laguna star has become one of the region’s top forwards, operating as a classic No. 9 target. While he lacks pace and won’t dribble around a defender anytime soon, he stealthily creates space for his shot and times his runs very well. If Javier “Chicharito” Harnández is always a minute early and four steps offside, then Peralta has mastered the art of being in the right place at the right time.

It’s a credit to Liga MX that he’s never left the league and played well at international tournaments. The height and power of Mexican defenders has clearly prepared the 5’11” star him for even bigger stages.

However, while Peralta’s goal against Querétaro offers more than a glimpse into his unique talents, it also highlights the biggest flaw in Liga defenses: guile.

Peralta reacted first to a failed clearance, took a single touch, and then chipped the keeper with the outside of his boot from 25 yards. The goal was class, how did the defense fail to clear the ball? And where were the defenders? The centerbacks and holding midfielder were all six to eight feet from Peralta.

Such inexplicable gaps between defenders and forwards pop up frequently in Liga MX games, especially near the end. As defenses tire, they back off their men and stand too close to their own goal.

At the other end, Ronaldinho struggled to make an impact but also found space against América. While Sanvezzo stole the show with his pace and finishing, Ronaldino had a nice crack from distance in the 36th minute.

How the 34-year-old can found and space on the ball says more about the defenders than his own aged talents. Yes, Ronaldinho is still whipping in some vicious free kicks and corners; however, you’d expect any competent 25-year-old holding midfielder to be able to harass him into oblivion. The fact this doesn’t happen shows that Liga MX’s defenders get caught ball-watching too often.

In addition to space, Ronaldinho has also gotten ahead by using that which his opponents lack; namely, guile. In Querétaro’s win over Chivas, his through ball to Sanvezzo was a thing of beauty. He head-faked and then side-footed a slide rule pass between the midfield and defensive lines for Sanvezzo to run onto.

How did Ronaldinho find so much space and time? Why did the backline keep Camilo onside? Why, say, didn’t any defender stick a leg out to stop his daisy-cutter of a pass? These are frequent questions for not only Chivas but also for Liga MX fans, in general. Most games leave viewers wondering what happened at the back.

Thus, the Querétaro-América game was a barnstorming affair, reminding us of all the reasons why any goal-loving fan would embrace Liga MX. After all, where else can a slow target forward and middle-aged midfield magician still bring a smile to our faces?

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