Liga MX review: The good, the bad and the ugly as Tigres take the title
A busy summer of international soccer is about to kick off, but before it does, let's close the final chapter of the Liga MX 2019 Clausura, with the good, the bad and the ugly of the season in Mexico.
Leon was the team of the Clausura and the most positive thing about the season, even if Tigres did win the title. La Fiera won 41 points in the regular season, scored 41 goals over 17 matches and made history by winning 12 consecutive games. It was a remarkable achievement for Ignacio "Nacho" Ambriz and his team.
Tigres clearly deserve a mention. It wasn't pretty and you still get the feeling there is another gear to click into, but the Clausura title did add another layer to further the already strong argument that this is the best team of the decade. Life at Tigres is an oasis of calm and long-term planning in a league notorious for its volatility and short-termism. Playing vastly experienced players and a style that prioritizes ball retention might not be the most exciting for the neutral, but Tigres under Ricardo "Tuca" Ferretti have such an entrenched identity that this team will go down in history.
In terms of players, Monterrey's 22-year-old Carlos Rodriguez broke out in a major way. The midfielder earned a starting spot at Rayados, kept it and appears on the path to become a Mexico regular in the years to come.
Veracruz is the obvious candidate here: It ended the season on zero points. But Chivas and Pumas finishing in 14th and 15th, respectively, was also poor given their stature. As the somewhat repetitive debate rolls on as to which Liga MX teams deserve "grande" status, the fact Chivas will start next season in 16th in the relegation table and Pumas in 12th highlights that while those two teams may be popular, they aren't winning many football matches at present and didn't do so this season.
Aside from those, 10 of the Liga MX's 18 teams changed coach during the regular season again bringing to the fore the lack of long-term commitment to processes and establishing an identity. In that respect, Ferretti, who has just completed nine years at Tigres, offers a counterbalance and the title was a reminder of the potential benefits of sticking with a process.
Finally, we have to talk a little more about Veracruz. Zero points -- four were taken away by FIFA due to Veracruz failing to make payments for a player -- is abysmal. The club has become an embarrassment to the league, although it was allowed to pay its way back in (see below)!
The relegation situation is confusing, unclear and has somehow allowed a historically bad team and ownership group to stay in Liga MX, even though it was relegated on the field.
Let's be clear, the port city of Veracruz on the Gulf of Mexico is a perfectly fine location for a team, but this ownership group has consistently failed to pay players on time, has threatened journalists and engages in the use of double-contracts. Allowing Tiburones to avoid relegation is hardly sending a message that this league is on the up.
Sticking with the ugly, the Clausura semifinal between Leon and America was badly managed and ended with Leon's players hanging around at a gas station waiting for notifications on where the first leg would be played. To be fair, Club America and the league couldn't have known that air pollution was set to make playing at Estadio Azteca impossible, but leaving it late to change the day of the game and then the location to Queretaro was a mess.
Finally, the final won't go down as a classic. Two tired teams in Leon and Tigres slugged it out and Tigres' superior defense brought home the title. It was an occasion in which you wondered whether it may be better for the Liga MX final to be played over one leg, at the stadium of the team with the better regular season point total.
Leon. Nacho Ambriz's team was expected to be in the playoff hunt at best but wound up first in the regular season.
A special mention also needs to be made for Guillermo Vazquez's Necaxa, who went out in the quarterfinal to Monterrey, but exceeded all expectations just by making the playoffs. This is a club that sells its best players -- like Brian Fernandez to the Portland Timbers -- and must've made money in the transfer market of late, but was very close to knocking out Monterrey, one of the favorites.
Team of the season
Angel Mena, Leon: Tallying 14 goals and 12 assists over 23 games is some achievement, with the only slight negative that the Ecuadorian didn't manage a goal over six playoff games.
Manager of the season
"Nacho" Ambriz, Leon: Javier Aguirre's former assist has turned his reputation as a somewhat defensive coach around. His Leon side was a flowing attacking unit that averaged 2.4 goals a game in the regular season.