In an off-season which saw many things happen as it relates to clubs/franchises relocating and clubs/franchises that were supposed to end up regulated somehow still playing first-division fútbol (soccer), one club continues to deal with a long-standing issue of not being able to pay its players or at least do so on time, and the Liga MX Apretura tournament starts up on Friday.
When looking at the rosters and teams in analyzing who the favorites are to win the title, the reigning champions, Club América, are the clear-cut overall favorite. América won the Clausura 2013 tournament title in dramatic fashion as it defeated Mexico City rival Cruz Azul in penalty shootout on a rainy Sunday night affair back in May.
While América have undergone some significant player changes for a club coming off winning a title it still is regarded as the favorite to be the first club since Pumas UNAM who in 2004 repeated as clubs to repeat as champions since México adopted the two tournament format. This is largely due to who is still on the team, the coach, and because of expectations placed on the club because of its history.
América head into the Apretura tournament no longer having leading goal scorer Christian Benitez on the team as he chased oil money to play in Qatar, and defender Diego Reyes, a player who graduated from the club’s youth academy to first team and will now ply his trade with Porto. In have come in several young players like Luis Mendoza and Carlos Gutierrez who are interesting prospects at this moment, but will be nothing more than squad players for now.
The biggest acquisitions have been in adding foward Luis Gabriel Rey, a Colombian with a track record of being a proven and consistent goal scorer in his career across various Mexican league clubs, and Andres Andrade, a 24 year old Colombian winger coming in to add depth to the attack.
The signing of the two Colombians will go along way into helping make the team more varied in attack now that Benitez is no longer on the team. While they were successful last season, at times the play of Club América was very Benitez- dependent. Going forward, expect to see young Mexican forward Raul Jimenez, another player who has graduated from the club’s youth academy, take on a larger role while Tony Lopez and Narciso Miña will also get playing time given the club will be playing in three tournaments.
Aside from América who are the clear favorites, other clubs who also have legitimate chances to be able to win the Apretura tournament are the northern contingent of Tigres UNAL, Monterrey, and Santos Laguna. Each of these three northern Mexican clubs within the last five years have vaulted themselves into being considered regular favorites. These squads are operated by owners who have, for the most part, done things well, hired good people to run the sporting side, and are home to some of the most loyal and fanatical fan bases in the country.
As usual, while not mentioned within the first list of teams picked to win the Apretura, Mexican giants Chivas de Guadalajara, Cruz Azul, and UNAM Pumas are all coming off of either a disappointing ends to their season (Cruz Azul), a dismal season in general (Chivas), or have had a pre-season which has many puzzled as to who they are at this moment (Pumas). Regardless of anything, their respective fan bases will demand they be serious challengers for the Apretura title.