Pablo Barrera's transfer will cost Cruz Azul big dollars, but they are not the only ones spending money. Big money has been spent, big players have been brought in, and big results are expected. (Photo: Jerome Miron-US PRESSWIRE)
The excitement is building as the start of the newly named Liga MX is just a few weeks away. On July 16th, the official logo and anthem will be unveiled in Mexico City as the league prepares to kick off on July 20th. If you're new to Mexican soccer, take a look at my introduction to Liga MX here. In the weeks leading up to the first kick, I'll be providing you a preview of the 2012 Apertura (opening) season, the big offseason movers, my top 5 teams of 2012, and a team preview for each club.
What's in a name change?
While you may hear a lot about the name change from the Primera Division de Mexico to Liga MX, don't read too much into it. When the original announcement was made, there were all sorts of rumors around changes to the league. In the end, the name is more from a marketing perspective and you can expect little changes to the way the league is operated in 2012. Recently, the President of Liga MX, Decio de Maria said the ultimate goal of Liga MX is to grow attendance and ratings and the name change is the first step towards that goal. He went on to say the name change concept is "not about money." De Maria continued, "In order to sell something, you have to provide value. We need to generate the value of the league." Ultimately, Mexico wants to see attendance increase substantially. So much so that De Maria added "The commitment is to have our stadiums with seats filled one hundred percent within three years." Big dreams for any league, especially with stadiums ranging from 20,000 in Cancun to 114,000 in Mexico City (Estadio Azteca).
Return of the Domestic Cup Copa Mexico
One big addition to the 2012 season will be the rebirth of the domestic championship Copa Mexico after a 15 year absence. MLS fans will find the Copa Mexico to be similar to the US Open Cup, matching up teams in the first and second division of Mexican soccer. Similar to the regular season tournaments, the Copa Mexico will be played twice each year (fall/spring). To avoid complicating a club's schedule, teams involved in the CONCACAF Champions League will not compete in the Copa Mexico. That may be good for those clubs, but I can see fans feeling a bit confused about which teams will qualify each year and we may see it struggle to gain support. One of the biggest issues is there is no marketable prize for the winner, only a trophy and pride. The US Open Cup allows the winner to qualify for the CCL, but yet the Copa Mexico will not. Playing the tournament twice in a year is somewhat confusing considering it is a domestic cup and one champion each year makes more sense. Give Liga MX credit for bringing back a historic tournament that began in 1907, but let's hope they realize and quickly change some of the questionable concepts surrounding Copa Mexico.
Big Offseason for Mexico
Pachuca has to be the team that stands out above the rest, adding three players that are expected to make an immediate impact. Newly hired coach, Mexican legend Hugo Sanchez has made a splash in the offseason due to the addition of Spanish striker Raul Tamudo, defender Paulo da Silva, and former Mexican national team forward Nery Castillo. Tamudo's transfer is rumored to cost $1.8 million dollars, da Silva $2.5 million, and Castillo $3.1 million. The players have fans excited, but also have given Sanchez high expectations from the first day they take the field.
Cruz Azul, who didn't qualify for the liguilla last year, has also made several high dollar moves to improve their chances in 2012. La Maquina brought in Luis Parea, Mariano Pavone, and most notably Pablo Barrera. Barrera, who returns to Mexico after a failed run in Europe, was reportedly brought in for a $6 million transfer fee. Barrera had a successful career with Pumas prior to leaving for West Ham in England and will look to recapture his form back home.
Each offseason, teams in Liga MX look to add talent, but this offseason has seen more money spent from clubs and should increase the marketability of the league to additional fans. The players mentioned above are the biggest additions to the league, but there are a host of others that cost big money and will make an impact in 2012. One thing is for sure, there are a number of other players that are still in sight of Liga MX and there will definitely be a few more additions prior to July 20th when the Apertura season kicks off.
As we near the opening Liga MX weekend, I'll be providing you with team previews and my top five clubs based on offseason moves. This week, we'll preview the first six teams by taking a look at where they finished last season, their biggest offseason move, and a quick thought on this year. Next week, we'll look at six additional teams and take a look at my picks for the top five clubs and my early pick for the championship contenders.
Last Season: 32 points, 3rd overall, eliminated in semifinals by Monterrey in the liguilla
Biggest Addition and/or Loss: Addition of Efrain Juarez
Apertura Outlook: If Christian Benitez continues his scoring trends (22 total goals last year), America can always find a way to compete. Don't see America replicating the same success this season, but will probably sneak into the liguilla.
Last Season: 16 points, 13th overall, DNQ for the liguilla
Biggest Addition and/or Loss: Addition of Esteban Paredes and newly appointed coach Ricardo La Volpe
Apertura Outlook: Paredes has been a goal scoring threat for Colo-Colo in Chile, we'll see if he can replicate that success in Mexico. La Volpe has had coaching success on a club and international level and led Mexico during the 2006 World Cup. Don't think it will be enough to send them through to the liguilla, but La Volpe has had success in Mexico before.
Last Season: 20 points, 10th overall, DNQ for liguilla
Biggest Addition and/or Loss: Addition of Hector Mancilla and Matias Vuoso
Apertura Outlook: Mancilla has had a successful career in Mexico and is a dangerous striker, and Vuoso's performance has been on decline in recent years, but the additions may not be enough to propel Atlas to a liguilla birth.
Last Season: 27 points, 8th overall, eliminated in first round of liguilla by Santos
Biggest Addition and/or Loss: Loss of Jackson Martinez
Apertura Outlook: Martinez had 21 total goals on the season and Jaguares do not have a player that will step and and fill that role. It's hard to imagine they will make another run at the liguilla with only Luis Gabriel Rey as the only scoring threat.
Last Season: 25 points, 9th overall, DNQ for liguilla
Biggest Addition and/or Loss: Addition of Pablo Barrera
Apertura Outlook: Cruz Azul narrowly missed the liguilla last season. They added striker Mariano Pavone to replace the goals Emmanuel Villa takes to Pumas. Barrera has continued to play with Mexico but had an unsuccessful run in England and Spain and will look to regain his form in Mexico. Their roster is too good to not be a quality team; look for them to get back on track and qualify for the liguilla.
Chivas de Guadalajara
Last Season: 15 points, 15th overall, DNQ for liguilla
Biggest Addition and/or Loss: Addition of Rafa Marquez Lugo
Apertura Outlook: Chivas were almost nonexistent in offseason moves, which was surprising considering how poorly they finished last year. Marquez Lugo will be looked upon to add some fire to their striker position, while Luis Ernesto Perez was brought in to improve the midfield. There is a large amount of young talent as usual in Chivas roster, including Marco Fabian who tallied 10 total goals last season. I think they'll turn it around this year behind Fabian and will contend for a playoff position.