What We Learned in the First Half of the Liga MX Clausura
Nine jornadas down, eight more to go. The liguilla is inching closer and closer, and now that we’re at effectively the halfway mark of the season, it’s time to take a look at what’s happened so far, and what that means for the future. Certainly, like any other, this season has been full of surprises; from both teams and individual players.
But there’s also been a lot that we all expected to happen: Rayados and América challenging for first place, with Tigres not that far behind. Let’s take a what we’ve learned from the clausura so far! Warning: Bad jokes ahead.
Saint Djaniny Carries Team
The story of the year so far is that of Santos Laguna, who find themselves 2nd in the table after an incredibly great start to the season. The main culprit for their success is Djaniny Tavares, the Cape Verdean striker who has picked up 11 goals this year already. For comparison, the Golden Boot winners for the last three seasons all finished with 11. Djaniny has eight matches left to improve his total.
Djaniny’s run is even more remarkable when you consider that despite being a Liga MX veteran, Tavares had never scored more than 6 goals in a season, and was never considered to be a severe goal-scoring threat, even at his peak. Djaniny has transformed stalemate Santos into must see TV, and I know I’m not the only one who spends much of the time watching him rather than the ball. It has been quite a while since we’ve seen anyone pick apart Liga MX defenses as well as Djaniny has this year, and it’s a sight to behold.
Puebla Surprise with Success
Puebla have not been a very good team in recent years. The past three short tournaments have all been terrible, but so far in 2018 things are going quite well. They currently sit 8th in the table, and have navigated themselves to be way out of the relegation picture. Though they were higher on the table a few weeks ago and their current standing can mostly be attributed to their hot start, Puebla have not been a team that gets rolled over the way they were a year ago.
Lucas Cavallini is having a solid season, leading the team with four goals so far, but it wouldn’t be fair to give the credit to any one player. Puebla are completely lacking in star power, which makes their first half triumphs all the more impressive. Puebla’s odds to make the playoffs still don’t look great with Rayados, Santos, Pumas, Pachuca and América still left on the schedule, but stranger things have happened.
América Fanbase Shrinks
América are in first place in the league, are undefeated this year, and are fresh off a 5-1 smacking of Saprissa in the Champions League, a game that was played in Costa Rica. They are looking great, and it really does feel like they could beat both Monterrey clubs in a playoff series right now. So then, where did all the fans go?
Sure, the Azteca is always going to look empty, and you can’t fault América fans for that, but this season, Las Aguilas have been drawing pitiful crowds. At just over 21,000 average home supporters, they are in the bottom half in attendance. That’s a serious problem, and anyone who thinks otherwise is lying to themselves. It’s not good for the club’s image, it’s not good for the league’s image, and it’s not good for results. If América really want to win the title, they’ll probably need a less than dull crowd behind them.
Keisuke Honda Opening Doors
We have seen it with Andre-Pierre Gignac and France. Upon Gignac’s arrival and success, suddenly it wasn’t so weird for a French player to come to Mexico. Andy Delort would follow soon after, and América have since picked up Jérémy Ménez. Keisuke Honda, from Japan, appears to be on track to do the same thing for his home country.
Upon signing with Pachuca, the club gained a decent sized following in Japan, and now, halfway through his second full season with the team, Honda has been impressive. In fact, if Djaniny weren’t having the historic season that he was, Honda could definitely be a contender for MVP.
There have been rumors of Liga MX clubs being interested in other Japanese players since Honda signed. It would be excellent for the league if they could get more players from Asia in general to come to Mexico, and Honda might be the catalyst for more players to come through.
Relegation Situation Continues
Veracruz are in line to be relegated at the moment. Or are they? The way things are shaping up, Los Tiburones will more than likely be last in the Tabla de Cociente when the season comes to a close. But will they be relegated? With the new rules in place in the Ascenso MX, which has left only six of the sixteen clubs available for promotion, Veracruz could be bailed out.
Should an ineligible team be promoted, Veracruz would be saved. Alebrijes de Oaxaca, who won the Apertura and have already claimed a place in the promotion final, are one such team that cannot be promoted. Further adding into the dilemma came the news that the league will soon be reviewing the promotion setup as a whole, with one possible option being closing off Liga MX for good.
I don’t think that the current pro/rel system is good. I’m not even sure it works. But it sure beats having nothing at all. It’s true that Mexico has not proven lately that it can sustain much more than 18 good clubs (if that) at a time, and just putting the best 18 or the best 20 in the top flight might increase the quality of the league.
But the way I see it, especially with the recent success of Necaxa, you just never know. I’m in favor of a 1 up/1 down system, but over one season rather than three. Could a new system that places the big boys of Mexico in potential jeopardy ever come to pass? Probably not, but it’s fun to dream. I expect that if any change comes out of these meetings, it will be that the system gets closed.