By Luis Bueno - RIVERSIDE, CA (Jan 3, 2014) US Soccer Players - With the New Year comes a new season in Mexico. Liga MX’s Clausura 2014 season will begin promptly this year as the Federation braces itself for the World Cup. A full slate of games will get the campaign off to an explosive start as the league will pick up where it left off not too long ago. As Leon begin their quest to repeat, several storylines stand out.
Way back in mid-December, Leon thwarted America’s quest to make history. Only once before has a club won consecutive short-season titles - Pumas did the feat in 2004, winning the Clausura 04 and Apertura 04 seasons. America seemed destined to win it but Leon dealt las Aguilas unexpectedly brutal blows in both legs and won the final by a 5-1 aggregate. Leon now sit with the distinction of trying to match Pumas. Leon have the talent to make another run - Carlos Pena, Rafael Marquez and Mauro Boselli all had outstanding campaigns. Leon will be challenged by America who, despite losing coach Miguel Herrera to the national team, will pose a threat. Santos, led by national team hero Oribe Peralta, is another team poised to dethrone Leon.
AMERICANS IN MEXICO, I
More than ever, there are many Americans scattered across Liga MX. Several players may shine as they look for the prize that is the World Cup in June. Herculez Gomez came from out of nowhere four years ago to lead the league in goals while breaking through with Puebla and earned a ticket to South Africa that way, and leads a pack of Americans just south of the border. Tijuana features a slew of American-born players, including Joe Corona and Edgar Castillo, who were also regulars with the national team in 2013. Meanwhile, DaMarcus Beasley returns to Puebla for his sixth season with La Franja, despite flirting with Queretaro in the offseason. Jose Torres will once again be a cog in Tigres’ midfield as well.
AMERICANS IN MEXICO, II
Established Americans are aplenty in Liga MX but there are also some youngster worth watching as well. Tijuana have the market cornered on this as well as Paul Arriola and Greg Garza should battle for more playing time. With the club set for a CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal series against the LA Galaxy in March, the duo could see more time in either competition. Tigres added US Under-20 World Cup veteran Juan Pablo Ocegueda to its first-time roster, giving the Riverside, Calif., native a chance to break through for first-team action. Cruz Azul did well to nab Michael Farfan and Jose Villarreal from Philadelphia and the Galaxy respectively. Villarreal’s deal is a loan, good for all of 2014, and could pave the way for the Inglewood, Calif., native to realize some of the potential he flashed in MLS over the last two seasons.
A STORIED RELEGATION?
Chivas have typically concerned themselves with winning titles and battling for top-flight glory, but this season the club simply wants to battle to stay in the top flight. Chivas sit perilously close to the relegation zone, and while Atlante have a foot in the second division, a poor season by Chivas might change all that. Chivas have been mismanaged both from the touchline and the front office for several seasons now, and that is affecting the team not only from year to year but with their standing in the first division altogether. To get booted from the top flight, a team’s previous six seasons are considered, and Chivas have had a revolving door with players, coaches and front-office personnel over that time. Atlante have key early-season matches with Veracruz, Atlas, and Guadalajara that could tilt the relegation battle one way or the other.
World Cup years typically have an impact on the Liga MX race. In 2010, El Tri played some World Cup tune-ups in May while the playoffs were going on, costing teams the chance of having some of their top players for key matches. In 2006, Chivas reached the final despite sending six players to the national team - not surprisingly, Chivas lost the final to Pachuca, whose lone World Cup player was Paraguayan Nelson Cuevas. The season is starting as early as possible - the first weekend in January, only three weekends removed from last season’s championship - and the regular season will end before May. The postseason though might force teams to make do without some key players. America stands to lose big come May should Herrera take an America-heavy roster to the World Cup.
Luis Bueno is a veteran soccer writer. Follow him on twitter @BuenoSoccer.
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