Big cities can support multiple soccer teams, competing in the same league. Even when one club experiences a period of greater success, most fans are likely able to name others from the same area. Chelsea are gunning for the Premier League title, but Arsenal and Tottenham are certainly popular, West Ham has plenty of loyal fans and even Crystal Palace and QPR aren’t overlooked. Even prior to last season, most people knew Atlético Madrid was always lurking in Real’s shadow. Boca Juniors might be Argentina’s most successful side, but chances are that no one’s forgotten River Plate play in Buenos Aires, too.
Then there’s Guadalajara. With well over 4 million people in the metropolitan area, it’s certainly big enough to play host to at least two soccer teams. But visitors — and probably even residents — could be forgiven for thinking that Club Deportivo de Guadalajara are the only show in town. The team, better known as Chivas, dominates the local headlines as well as the national press. The attention paid to what was once Mexico’s most successful team is overwhelming. The organization, which still refers to itself as the country’s “most important club” and refuses to field a non-Mexican player, looms so large in the city that unless Chivas is playing a local derby, the fact that two (yes, two!) other top-flight teams reside there gets obscured.
It’d be one thing if Atlas, a team almost as old as Chivas, was simply coasting, like Manchester City before the sheikh came calling. One might be tempted to compare los Zorros to Getafe, forever overshadowed by the Reals and the Atléticos. And it’s true that one league title easily pales in comparison to Chivas’ dozen. But in recent years, Atlas has been playing the best soccer in Guadalajara. In the recently concluded Apertura, journeyman manager Tomás Boy put together a product that was not only entertaining but successful, gaining the most points of any Liga MX club and finishing third by way of goal difference.
It’s the Leones Negros of UDG that might be most aptly compared to Getafe, well overshadowed in Guadalajara. The club was only founded in the 1970s and then went on hiatus in 1994, only to be revived three years later. It lacked stability until 2009, when some businessmen got together and bought out another team’s spot in the Ascenso (which happens in Mexico). But the team has finally thrived on the pitch, winning promotion in 2014 — 20 years after it was last in the top flight. It also has the best jerseys in Mexico.
Sunday night brought one of those rare local matches when a non-Chivas team makes its presence known, with the Leones Negros hosting the giant of Guadalajara. The teams shot barbs back and forth on their official social media channels in the build-up to the match, and ended up fighting to a 1-1 draw after Omar Bravo headed home late to equal Fidel Martínez’s first-half tally.
Yet the stories after the match centered around Chivas struggling again, focusing on how the team barely looks to be fighting relegation. The atmosphere at the Estadio Jalisco, or Leones Negros’ own struggle against the drop were footnotes, if even mentioned.
Don’t get it twisted, though. Chivas going down would be a huge story, even taking into account the Mexican press’ hypersensitivity toward all things Goat. The club has never dropped into the second division, a remarkable record for a club founded in 1906. The eyebrows lower a bit, though, when viewed through the light of Mexico’s relegation system: one club goes down every two tournaments, and performances in the previous five campaigns are added to the current one, dividing matches played by points to get a percentage score.
That stacks the deck against newly promoted teams like Leones Negros, keeping the big boys like Chivas in the top flight — or at least that’s how it’s supposed to work when your team isn’t a horrendous mess owned by Jorge Vergara. Both teams currently sit above Puebla but a single match could still make the difference.
The coverage of Vergara’s crew goes to show that even as the team continues to grasp at straws to explain exactly why it’s relevant (its Wikipedia entry boasts(?) the team “holds the Mexican league record for the second longest winning streak at the beginning of a season”), it continues to actually be relevant on its own. The team exists in Kardashian-esque cycle of feeding a massive audience eager to learn more about a club now famous for being famous.
Does that cycle ever end? Guadalajara is big enough for Atlas and Leones Negros, but are those teams big enough for Guadalajara? If Chivas finishes last in the percentage table, there’s a very good chance something will transpire to keep the giant from falling. Even if Chivas does descend to the Ascenso, it’s hard to imagine them not continuing to overshadow the other teams in the city, making headlines for making headlines.