Shipped from abroad: Surviving relegation on a Mexican Primera Division weekend

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Atlas came into Mexico’s weekend in 14th place, a stature that grossly exaggerated their quality. The Guadalajara-based club had only scored four goals in 14 Clausura matches and stood an outside chance of being relegated to the Liga de Ascenso (a tough task, in Mexico). With Monterrey visiting Jalisco looking to go top, the match (on paper) looked like another chance for the Rayados flash their federation’s best club-form.

Which, of course, didn’t happen. There’s no way you’d have gotten that lead if it did. With a late first half goal from Hugo Rodríguez, Atlas not only paved their way to a remarkable upset, they assured they’d stay in the Primera (relegating Estudiantes Tecos) and – let’s not bury the lead here – scored a real-life goal.

“We want to be champions, not [lead the league at the end of qualification],” Monterrey striker Aldo de Negris said afterword. “We are on track and will continue [toward our goals].”

And there you have the beauty of a playoff system. Were this most other leagues, Monterrey’s inability to gut a minnow would be seen as lost points, particularly with defending champions Tigres having taken the league’s lead. But not in Mexico. There, the only thing at stake for the Rayados is Liguilla positioning.

While seeding is certainly important in Mexico (where higher seeds advance when playoff rounds end tied), Monterrey’s already clinched a playoff spot. They know that once the Liguilla starts, they can beat anybody. For now, CONCACAF Champions League’s their greater concern (as seen in Victor Vucetich starting Humberto Suazo and Ángel Reyna on the bench). The Atlas loss was old news the second the final whistle blew.

Not so for Atlas. Even with Saturday’s derby against Chivas on the horizon, post-match reaction from coach Juan Carlos Chávez acknowledged the hard work was done: “[A]t some point I said we are going to be saved and we’re saved.”

Their other Guadalajara rivals, Tecos, were not saved. They’ll drop to the second division for the first time since 1975.

On Monday (at the club’s first training session since their fate had been confirmed), director Carlos Briones named names, attempting to apportion blame for the clubs’ disastrous three-year run.

“Personally, I would only keep the name Tecos,” Briones said regarding potential changes at the club. But the name many not stay, either. Currently officially named Club de Futbol Estudiantes, there are those that want to return to the old name, Club de Fútbol U.A.G.

In the face of relegation, all rules can go out the window. In this case, it might be out with the new, in with the old.

Elsewhere in Mexico

All results: Tecos 1-1 Puebla; Jaguares 0-0 Tijuana; Querétaro 2-2 San Luis; América 3-1 Santos Laguna; Pachuca 1-2 Morelia; Tigres 2-1 Chivas; Atlas 1-0 Monterrey; Atlante 1-2 Pumas; Toluca 0-3 Cruz Azul.

Stuff that stuck out

  • Santos rested even more of their regulars than Monterrey ahead of the first leg of CONCACAF Champions League’s final. As a result, the Guerreros gave up the league lead to Tigres. Like Monterrey, they’re unlikely to care too much.
  • Tigres, on the other hand, look set to mount a strong defense of their Apertura title, though a huge bump is appearing on the horizon. Cruz Azul is one of the most talented if underachieving clubs in Mexico, and sitting in eighth after an impressive 3-0 win at Toluca, they may be ready to perpetuate the superlíder curse.
  • And although they were facing a weakened Santos Laguna, América still impressed, recording their second big victory in as many weeks (previously defeating Chivas 1-0). A Messi-like goal from Christian Bermundez augmented continued strong play from Christan Benítez and Daniel Montenegro. With Vicente Vuoso chipping in one off the bench, América seems to have their full arsenal loaded. They’re only three points off the top.

Up next: Expect Monterrey and Santos Laguna to rest players this weekend against Pachuca and Tigres. That will give the defending champions a chance to earn three valuable points, but it will also give Morelia (third) and América an opportunity to strength claims to top-four places.