We’re two weeks into Liga MX – what we used to know as the Mexican Primera Division – but rebranding’s failed to produce a new look to the standings. At the top of the league, Tigres, Toluca, and Santos have perfect records through two rounds. At the bottom, San Luis, Querétaro and Jaguares are still looking for their first points (San Luis and Querétaro will spend the season battling relegation). It’s all par for the course.
That’s what makes León’s start stand out. Promoted to the first division for the first time in 10 years (taking Estudiantes Tecos’ place), Liga MX’s newest club is off to a perfect start.
Five-time first division champions, Leon should be a familiar name to U.S. soccer fans who remember Marcelo Balboa’s season in Guanajuato (Eric Wynalda also had a brief spell with the club). A one time contender on the CONCACAF scene, León lived a Buffalo Bills-esque existence in the second division, five times losing the league’s promotion playoff before finally returning to the first division this spring.
The Esmeraldas’ brought in their new era last week with a 2-0 win at Querétaro, earning three points while playing most of the match down a man. Against a fellow-relegation battler, the win was practically a six-pointer, even if it was viewed as a modest success.
On Friday, all modesty was put aside as León blasted Club Tijuana at their Nou Camp. Twenty-two year old defensive midfielder Carlos Pena, brought in from Pachuca this summer, scored a surprise brace, while Hernan Burbano converted his second penalty kick of the year. Add a goal from Luis Montes (another player brought in from Pachuca) and León had 4-0 victory over last year’s promotion darlings.
As with Tijuana last season, León’s promotion carries unique hopes. For Xolos, it was the promise of a new market next to the U.S.-Mexico border, one that could help diversity a league that had settled into a few regional sects. Guantajuato doesn’t offer geogrpahic diversity, but with León’s history, the top division can welcome the return of a storied team. Only five clubs (Chivas, Toluca, America, Cruz Azul, Pumas) have more titles than León.
That’s why León’s position atop the league, while shocking, also has a familiar feel. Having scored six goals while allowing none, it’s a deserved perch.
Next up, León welcomes second division Dorado in the revitalized Mexico Cup (Copa MX). On Sunday, though, they get their wake up call. The Esmeraldas travel to Toluca.
At the bottom
The two biggest disappointments, though two rounds? Chivas and Pachuca, though one of those two deserve a caveat.
Chivas is without a point through two rounds, but you can hardly blame them. The two teams they faced are a combined 4-0-0 to start the season.
Guadalajara opened with a 2-1 loss at Toluca while Carlos Quintero’s stoppage time goal took full points from Estadio Omnilife for Santos Laguna. Post-game, goalkeeper Luis Michel bemoaned the club’s lack of experience. Reports failed to note his level of irony.
Pachuca at least has a point, but more was expected from the Tuzos after legendary striker Hugo Sanchez took over. Sanchez won two league titles while coaching Pumas from 2000-2005 but hasn’t coached in the Mexican league since 2006.
Pachuca, a perennial power under Enrique Meza, has been a team adrift since their old boss left for Cruz Azul (and has since moved on to Toluca). Since, the Tuzos have failed to reach another final, finished no better than sixth in any qualification, and twice missing the Liguilla.
Sanchez was supposed to restore something – call it pride, direction, status, what have you. The opening schedule played into his hands: at Atlanta, Atlas, at Querétaro, Tijuana. Half-way through that paved path, the Tuzos have one point and are coming off an embarrassing 3-0 home loss to Atlas, a game that saw two players (including Jose Torres) sent off.
It wasn’t so long ago that Pachuca was a perennial power, but in the world of two-tournament seasons, that was another lifetime. For all the struggles of the last three years, Pachuca seems more adrift than ever.
Thankfully, it’s only two games, and with eight teams qualifying for the Liguilla, there’s still plenty of time to turn things around.
Elsewhere in Mexico
- Miguel Sabah was Sabah-y on Friday against Monterrey (scoring Morelia’s only goal), but the Rayado loss was eye-opening. The reigning CONCACAF champions have failed to score in 180 minutes, and despite being a pre-tournament favorite have one point through two matches. Did Santos break them in last tournament’s final?
- Bad news for the rest of Mexico: Chucho’s still Chucho. América’s Christian Benítez scored his first two goals of the tournament in América’s weekend win.
- And speaking of doubles, Martin Bravo scored twice for Pumas, bringing his season total to a league-leading three. Should we do the annoying “he’s on pace for”? Or can you do the times-nine multiplication without me?
- Mariano Pavone scored his first goal for Cruz Azul, who got their first win under Guillermo Vazquez. The former Independiente, Real Betis, River Plate and Lanus man was brought in to replace the explosive but inconsistent Emanuel Villa (now with Pumas). So far, so good.