Liga MX review: Mexico's "big two," America and Chivas, heading in different directions
MEXICO CITY -- There was emotion visible on Edson Alvarez's face as he looked up at the big screen inside the historic Estadio Azteca on Saturday at halftime of America's game against Monterrey. A short film of the 21-year-old bidding farewell to Club America employees was being shown and chants of "Edson, Edson" rang out as the new Ajax signing completed a lap of the pitch.
Alvarez used to make the 75-minute trip on public transport from his home in Tlalnepantla, Estado de Mexico to train at the club's facility in the south of Mexico City and after scoring two goals in the 2018 Apertura final win, becoming a key part of both Las Aguilas and the Mexican national team, he now moves on to join a European club with elite pedigree. In the process, Alvarez becomes the ideal prototypical America youth product: the poster boy for a youth system that has produced and sold Raul Jimenez, Diego Lainez, Diego Reyes and Guillermo Ochoa to Europe in recent years.
Alvarez jetted off to the Netherlands on Saturday evening as America's current players celebrated a 4-2 win over Monterrey, a result that provided a reminder that perhaps the most remarkable thing about America selling homegrown players to Europe -- in a quantity only matched by Pachuca -- is that Las Aguilas have done it while consistency challenging for titles.
America has reached five Liga MX finals and won three championships, as well as two CONCACAF Champions League titles, over the past six years. The club has achieved a balance, producing players of good enough quality to sell on while bringing in foreign signings that help keep America at the top.
Against Monterrey, America wasn't at its best but still managed to win against another team that will be in the title hunt come the playoffs. And coach Miguel Herrera was able to field Colombian international (Mateus Uribe) alongside an Argentine international (Guido Rodriguez) in midfield, where Alvarez would have played. The loss of Alvarez will be felt but when America can boast squad-depth like that, and bring in a player like Giovani dos Santos, it is still one of the teams to beat this Apertura.
In stark contrast, over at all-Mexican club Chivas, America's great rival, there is no sense of balance, no feeling that Guadalajara is a club that will be challenging for titles and no pipeline of players good enough to move to Europe with the exception of Jose Juan Macias, who is currently on loan at Leon.
This weekend saw Chivas lose 3-0 to Benfica in California on Saturday in the International Champions Cup (ICC), then fall 3-0 to Santos Laguna in Liga MX play on Sunday. The squad was split between the two games in a bizarre experiment. Seeking global exposure through the ICC is a positive for a Mexican game that can be insular, but Chivas dropped to 17th in the relegation table with the loss to Santos. The Chivas brand needs to have a vibrant, exciting team on the field in order to make an impact, not what we have seen so far in 2019.
Against Santos, Guadalajara had just one shot from inside the penalty area, had an XG of 0.43 (the lowest of any Liga MX team this weekend) and created zero big chances, hinting at real underlying problems, leaving aside Antonio Rodriguez's mistake in net to gift Santos the opening goal. There's an ongoing feeling that Tomas Boy isn't the right manager to turn things around at the club and the offseason saw more changes in the club's structure, with CEO Jose Luis Higuera departing and owner Jorge Vergara's son Amaury Vergara taking over as president.
Next up is a trip to Texas for an ICC game on Tuesday against Atletico Madrid, the club's third game in four days, followed by a home game Sunday against Liga MX champion Tigres. So while one weekend clearly doesn't define a season, the start of the 2019 Apertura for Mexico's big two teams certainly accentuated the differing current realities of the rivals.
Other weekend notes:
Early statement from Vucetich, Queretaro
If there was an award for team of the weekend, it would go to Queretaro. Victor Manuel Vucetich's side looked organized, played some positive football and took a deserved 2-0 victory back from Toluca on Sunday. The win wasn't just dumb luck, either: Queretaro had more possession than Ricardo La Volpe's Toluca and had a greater number of expected goals (1.62 to 0.83). The strike partnership of Ayron del Valle and Ake Loba looked particularly dangerous.
On the flip side, hearing La Volpe talk of his "cold" Toluca team "lacking hunger" wasn't an ideal way to start the season.
Santos Laguna impress
There have been a lot of changes at Santos Laguna in the close season, with Guillermo Almada heading a new-look team, but after a two-month preseason there was evidence that Los Guerreros have got things right in the transfer market and with hiring the Uruguayan coach. The 3-0 win against Chivas was emphatic and the fact Jose Abella, Jose Juan Vazquez and Diego Valdes were all on the bench hints that the squad's strength in depth has improved.
Monterrey needs to determine Pizarro's future
Rayados coach Diego Alonso was adamant after the loss to America that Rodolfo Pizarro is a Monterrey player and will be until a European club comes in and pays his buy-out clause. It was a fair statement but the reality is that he needs the situation to be sorted as quickly as possible. If Pizarro, who has been linked with French and Italian clubs, stays, the 25-year-old will be the focal point of the attack in a 4-2-3-1 formation. If he leaves, Alonso will need to shift things around. Against America, Pizarro was on the bench and Maxi Meza started and the shape looked more like a 4-3-3.
Atletico San Luis fell 2-0 to Pumas at home in the team's return to Liga MX on Saturday while FC Juarez lost 1-0 away to Atlas. It's historically been tough for teams coming up from the second division and while both San Luis and Juarez put up fights this weekend, they'll need to improve moving forward.
Player of the Week: Javier Aquino
There was a rare headed goal from the winger, plus a top corner beauty as Tigres overcame a difficult Morelia 4-2 on Saturday.
Goal of the weekend: Fabian Castillo, Queretaro vs. Toluca
There were a number of good strikes this weekend, but Castillo's was the best of the bunch. When Castillo received the ball down the left flank, there seemed to be little threat but a few seconds later, the Colombian had shimmied past two Toluca defenders and thrashed the ball into the top right of the goal.