Oh, hello there, busy executive whose already short attention span has been fried further by the Internet. Do you have five minutes? Did you once catch part of a Liga MX game while in a Mexican restaurant that actually served Tex-Mex? Good. Take a break from pounding your fist on mahogany desks and yelling at underlings to visually ingest these 700 or so words on the upcoming Clausura.
I promise to be brief. Scout’s honor.
First off, let’s whittle the list of possible campeones down. Looking at the top eight clubs who made last season’s liguilla, three things immediately stand out: Chiapas FC was a small club that overachieved, Pumas is Pumas, and Pachuca is Pachuca. For Pumas, unless Hugo Sánchez returns as coach and brings a dose of magic from the mid-2000s, the capital club will once again optimistically squeeze into the playoffs. Pachuca will finish sixth and lose in the quarterfinals. Thus, we’re left with five contenders. And here’s why they may, but probably won’t, win it all.
Strength: This is the capital club that won the Apertura and is now ahead of Chivas in Liga MX tittles. An athletic, aggressive, and balanced side that comes at you relentlessly, the Aguilas still bare all the marking of a Miguel Herrera coached side. Its championship win over Cruz Azul a year ago was epic.
Weakness: Oribe Peralta’s goalscoring form has been spotty, and América recently sold star wing back Miguel Layún to a Spanish team. Most importantly, it’s moved on from Antonio “El Turco” Mohamed and now have Gustavo Matosas as head coach. He led Club León to titles, but his defensive proclivities may rub Americanistas and media the wrong way. He’ll also need an adjustment period.
Strength: Tigres has been on a roller coaster the last few years, from finishing first in the 2013 Clausura regular season to missing the playoffs a year later to recently making the final and losing to América. Its rock solid defense and proclivity for a midfield triangle make them hard to beat.
Weakness: Defense does not win in Mexico, goals do. Last season, Herc Gomez was not the answer. This offseason, they signed another forward extranjero: 29-year-old Brazilian Rafael Sobis of Fluminense. Sobis was once a hot property and bounced around Europe but returned to Brazil and notched a decent 10 goals in 40 appearances over a few years. Still, an injury-prone player approaching 30 will not solve the goals problem.
Strength: For the past few years, Toluca has consistently made the liguilla. Unlike, say, Tigres, Toluca has brought in a South American who could provide a boost: Colombian Victor Montaño. He had a season to forget at Montepellier in Ligue 1 but lit the world aflame the season before at Stade Rennes. He’s great on headers and also has blistering pace to run in behind defenses. If the midfield gives him service, a five – 10 goal haul is imminently possible.
Weakness: Toluca, like Tigres, suffers from mysterious goalscoring droughts. In the semifinals of the Apertura, the Red Devils needed a single goal in either the home or away game to advance. Instead, scoreless draws at home and away sent them out a Tigres’ expense thanks to Liga MX’s regular season tie-breaker.
Strength: Atlas won as many games as Club América and tied it on points last season, but its paltry goal difference of two reveals a team that can eek out narrow victories but lacks the firepower to blow away smaller teams. Winning close games shows veteran leadership and savvy play, but, on the other hand, sometimes that means you can’t put another team away.
Weakness: Atlas is a chronic playoff choker as of late. Its narrow victory magic disappears come the liguilla. It lost the second leg of its Apertura quarterfinal at home to Monterrey, and, after a great 2013 Clausura, similarly lost to Santos Laguna. The roster is well-balanced but lacks a difference maker.
Strength: In-form Colombian striker Dorlan Pabón. He scored 11 times in the Apertura and added some key goals in the team’s liguilla playoff run. If Pabón keeps playing like Pabón, Monterrey should breeze into the playoffs. Note to self: Colombian strikers, so hot right now.
Weakness: In his final season, Chilean striker Humberto Suazo was far from his best. However, he did provide the game-breaking assist in the away win over Atlas in the quarterfinals. Now that he’s returned to South America, his veteran leadership will be missed. Efraín Juárez and Jesús Zavala should set a fine example, but they’re no Chupete.