Javier Cortes is part of a revamped Pumas midfield. Pumas made big moves in the offseason with hopes of raising the 2012 Apertura trophy. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Preseason for the 2012 Apertura is in full swing and we are just two weeks from opening weekend. Last week we talked about the resurrection of the Copa Mexico, the name change to Liga MX, who is spending big bucks in the offseason, and we previewed six teams.
In this week's installment of Ordinary Orange Fan talks Mexican we'll take a look at my top three preseason picks to contend for the Apertura title, throw out a wild card pick, and look at the teams most likely headed for relegation to the Liga de Acenso (second division). In addition, we'll continue team previews looking at another six teams and their outlook on the first of two Mexican seasons.
It's going to be a wild season in Mexico after an offseason of spending and rapid movement, but a few teams have positioned themselves nicely to compete for the title. If nothing goes wrong in terms of injuries, etc we should see these three teams at the top of the table.
2012 Apertura Top 3 Contenders
Pumas finished near the bottom of the table in 2011, but have been one of the most active teams during the offseason. More importantly, all of their signings have been high quality and addressed their biggest needs. Pumas only scored 13 goals last season and that glaring problem was address by luring Argentine Emanuel Villa away from Cruz Azul. Villa knows how to find the back of the net in Mexico, scoring 14 goals for each of the last two years. Their midfield was improved by bringing in Martin Romagnoli, Jaime Lozano, and most notably Spaniard Luis Garcia. Garcia finished his 2011 campaign scoring 13 goals and will be another dangerous option on goal. If Garcia and Villa can contribute on the same level in 2012 and their younger players like Javier Cortes continue to improve, this team will be hard to beat for the foreseeable future.
Last season's champion could very well be this year's champion. Santos finished first in the league table and went on to beat the number two team Monterrey for the championship. Losing a key star or two seems to happen often after teams win a title, but Santos have been able to keep their core players in tact. Oribe Peralta is poised to have another strong year, Daniel Luduena is dangerous in the midfield, and who can deny Herculez Gomez would be a starter on any other team. Add in the addition of a Mexican National Team midfielder in Geraldo Lugo and that will only improve their chances of a repeat. Santos is on top of the Mexican world right now and would take an epic collapse to change that.
Monterrey boasts two of the best strikers in Mexico in Humberto Suazo and Aldo de Nigris and nothing will change in 2012. The Rayados lost midfielder Lucho Perez to Chivas in the offseason, but shouldn't have a problem filling his role. Angel Reyna, who had success with Club America in the past, will look to improve in his second tournament with Monterrey. Reyna was the leading goalscorer in Mexico back in the Clausura 2011 with 13 goals. If he can replicate that success now that he is more comfortable in Monterrey, this will be a scary lineup.
Take a look inside for my wild card pick, who's going down to the second division, and more teams previews.
Wild Card: Pachuca
No team in Mexico received more press than Pachuca after making a splash in the offseason from head to toe. Los Tuzos swung for the fences for a new coach by signing Mexican legend Hugo Sanchez. They went on to fill other needs with talent outside of the Mexican league, bringing in Spanish striker Raul Tamudo, Nery Castillo, and Paraguyan defender Paulo da Silva. All three players were expensive and Tamudo and Castillo will be pressured to score goals immediatey. For additional strength, Sanchez brought in former Chivas forward Alberto Medina, former Toluca midfielder Nestor Calderon, and former America defender Oscar Rojas. The midfield is anchored by United States National Team player Jose "El Gringo" Torres. Not a bad lineup for a team looking to return to their form they had when Enrique Meza was their coach. If the team comes together early in the season, there is no doubt Hugol will have a contender on his hands and may replicate the success he had in UNAM in the early 2000's.
Santos and Monterrey are no strangers to winning in Mexico and have been two very dominate teams in recent years. It will be hard to displace either one from their throne as Mexico's best, but Pumas and Pachuca have signed the tools to try. One thing is for sure in Mexico, you can do all the predictions you'd like, but surprises will happen and other teams typically sneak into the mix by mid season. All the more reason to keep your eyes on La Liga MX.
One will rise, one will fall
While Leon is enjoying their rebirth in the top flight of Mexican soccer, the celebration is short lived as they will need to make an impact immediately to avoid being in contention for relegation at the end of the year. Leon won't be the only team fighting to stay in the first division and others may have an more uphill battle. Relegation in Mexico is based on an average point total for the last 3 years (6 short seasons). For a newly promoted team, their average is based on their games played that year.
Queretaro and Atlas (along with newly promoted Leon) will be the teams on the bubble this year. Atlas is trying everything they can do to avoid relegation by bringing in Hector Mancilla and Matias Vuoso. Queretaro on the other hand has made a large amount of moves, but only one has a big impact (Carlos Bueno's return) and it's hard to imagine them making it to 2013 in the first division. Bueno's return will help as he led them to the liguilla in 2011, scoring 12 goals on the way to upsetting the number one seed. I think Leon will have a decent effort in their return to the top flight, making this the last time (for the foreseeable future) we'll see Queretaro in Liga MX. One side note: Dynamo fans, Luis Angel Landin has signed on to save Queretaro from relegation (my words, not his).
Next week, we'll take a look into the first weekend of games and preview the final six teams in Liga MX. For now, in case you missed the most recent editions of Ordinary Orange Fan talks Mexican, take some time to catch up and make sure you're ready for the kick off of Liga MX Apertura 2012 on July 20th.
Team Previews (2 of 3)
LeonLast Season: Promoted to First Division
Biggest Addition and/or Loss: Added 18 players to retool entire roster, including Mexican national team defender Jonny Magallon
Apertura Outlook: Leon last competed in the first division back in 2002 and their roster upgrades don't exactly stand out. They'll need to have a solid start to the year to avoid being in relegation talks at the end of the Clausura later this year. Once you're in, you have to preform right away to stay.
MonterreyLast Season: 32 points, 2nd overall, lost in championship to Santos
Biggest Addition and/or Loss: Loss of Luis Ernesto Perez
Apertura Outlook: The loss of Perez is a bit surprising after he has spent time in Monterrey since 2003, but Los Rayados have midfield depth and I don't foresee it being a big issue. Right now, they are one of the best clubs in North America and I would expect them to compete for championships again this year. Humberto Suazo and Aldo de Nigris is a dangerous forward combination and just imagine if Angel Reyna finds his stride this year.
MoreliaLast Season: 31 points, 4th overall, lost to Tigres in first round of the liguilla
Biggest Addition and/or Loss: Losses of Rafa Marquez Lugo
Apertura Outlook: Morelia usually fields a competitive team and gets a shot in the liguilla, but have trouble closing out the better teams in Mexico. With the loss of Jaime Lozano in midfield and Marquez Lugo in the front, I'm not sure they will see as much success as they have in the past. Miguel Sabah is getting older and I'm not sure he can carry the team on his shoulders alone.
PachucaLast Season: 28 points, 6th overall, ousted by America in first round of the liguilla
Biggest Addition and/or Loss: Additions of coach Hugo Sanchez, forwards Nery Castillo and Raul Tamudo
Apertura Outlook: 2012 will see the return of Mexican legend Hugo Sanchez as the head coach of Pachuca. He has already made a splash by bringing in Spanish forward Tamudo and recently bringing Castillo to Mexico. He could be responsible for making Pachuca a contender again, all while reviving Castillo's career. He'd be a nice addition to the Mexican world cup team if he regains his form.
PueblaLast Season: 19 points, 12th overall, DNQ for the liguilla
Biggest Addition and/or Loss: Loss of Luis Garcia
Apertura Outlook: Puebla did not have a great season and couldn't get consistent play from almost anyone except American DaMarcus Beasley and Spaniard Luis Garcia. Garcia has now joined Pumas and Puebla hasn't really brought in anyone that can fill their immediate needs. I would imagine we will see a very similar performance this season as we did last.
QueretaroLast Season: 12 points, 17th overall, DNQ for the liguilla
Biggest Addition and/or Loss: Addition of Carlos Bueno and Luis Angel Landin (just for fun)
Apertura Outlook: Queretaro finished second to last in the league last season, and has brought in 20 plus new players for this tournament. That's the most in Liga MX, and they're hoping all the new blood will help the team turn it around so they don't sink towards relegation further. It was made official today that Carlos Bueno would return to Queretaro. This is a huge addition, as he scored 21 total goals the last time he played in Mexico in 2010/11, leading them to the playoffs and knocking out the number one ranked Chivas. Can he help save the Gallos Blancos from relegation? We'll see.