Leones Negros are about to be the latest victim of Mexico’s silly relegation system

One team will be relegated at the end of this Liga MX tournament. But it’s the past, not just the present, that determines which team drops. So Morelia, the side that finished last in the Apertura and sits at the foot of the tournament this season, actually has no worry of relegation. They’re not even close to the actual drop.

Mexico’s system takes into account this tournament as well as the five previous. Take the number of points a team has amassed, divide it by the number of matches a team has played, and you get a quotient you won’t find anywhere in the actual table. Yet it’s that obscure ratio that will save Monarcas. A team with a lower number, one that’s outplayed Morelia throughout the year, will be sent to Liga Ascenso.

What’s preserving Morelia is a couple of good seasons the team had a few years ago. Thanks to banked points, earned by a team that bares little resemblance to the current Monarcas, Morelia sits in the middle of the relegation table. Viva Mexico. Viva Liga MX.

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You know who didn’t have a few good seasons a few years ago? The Leones Negros of Universidad de Guadalajara (UDG is fine). They weren’t even in Liga MX. The Black Lions only joined the first division this summer, yet thanks to six-tournament system, the newly promoted side might be on the way back down, decent results be damned.

Sunday provided a perfect picture of this silly system. Pumas’ clash against Morelia befit the billing it received – a clash of two teams at the bottom of the Clausura. The winning goal for the capital club came on a header which slipped between the legs of the Morelia goalkeeper. The victory allowed the once-proud team to claw its way out of the basement, again condemning Morelia to the bottom spot.

“The team started to deliver good things, so it looks like the result is unjust to me,” Morelia forward David Depetris said, perhaps conveniently forgetting his team’s league standing can’t get any worse.

Contrast that with Sunday’s second match, where Leones Negros took on a Tigres side fresh off a mid-week draw in Copa Libertadores at Argentine titans River Plate. Leones Negros took advantage of their beleaguered guests early, opening the scoring in the 20th minute. By the middle of the second half, however, it looked like the team might have to settle for a disappointing point, with Rafael Sóbis having equalized in the 71st. But shortly after, Fidel Martínez, an Ecuadorian who dyes his hair brightly and is seemingly oblivious to FIFA’s rules about shirt removal, powered in a header to give UDG a much-needed 2-1 victory.

“I liked UDG,” Tigres assistant coach Hugo Hernandez conceded after the match, having already deadpanned “Whoever scores more is the winner.” Head coach Tuca Ferretti had spent part of the first half squatting behind the bench, refusing to leave the field after being sent off.

“[UDG is] a team that ran the whole match,” Hernandez eventually relented, “and we have to congratulate them.”

But don’t mistake Hernandez saying Leones Negros was the better team on Sunday as him saying Leones Negros are a better team in general. Shockingly, Sunday represented the first time in 26 top-flight matches UDG has scored multiple goals. Still, it now sits four spots from the bottom of the table in this tournament, right in 14th position where it finished its first tournament in Liga MX.

Pumas and Morelia, teams that would be sweating relegation in most formats, are infinitely more deserving of going down. Pumas’ win against horrific Morelia was only its second of the campaign, and despite having an experienced group of veterans like Daniel Ludeña and Ismael Sosa in attack along with Dario Verón and Luis Fuents eat the back, the team has league’s worst goal difference. Likewise, Morelia also features a horrendous back line, somehow still relying on 32-year-old Joel Huiqui and 34-year-old Marco Palacios. Teams with these issues would have to engineer in great escape in most leagues, but in Mexico, the ghosts of the 2012 Apertura have as much sway as the last weekend’s results.

UDG is at least fun to watch. Martínez is a charismatic young talent who is the heart and soul of the attack and might have a future at the international level with Ecuador. Luis Téllez has shown the ability to create for Martínez and might be the rare young Mexican talent flying under the radar. The Estadio Jalisco faithful maintain the enthusiasm of a fan group still exuberant about their team being in the top flight. Marc Crosas has the best beard in the region, and the jerseys are pretty. There is plenty to love about Leones Negroes beyond their decided non-relegation-worthy performance.

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Undoubtedly, they could be better, but there’s also no doubt other teams are worse. Those teams don’t have to worry, though. UDG sits in last spot, with Puebla next, and Chivas ahead of that. With Puebla starting to put together a run, the deck already stacked against UDG is becoming more daunting.

Mexico’s relegation system is broken. The Federation might not care, but the league and its fans are about to be robbed of a team on the rise, leaving Liga MX stuck with a few twitching, rotting fish for clubs in their hands instead.