2016 Liga MX Clausura review: The good, the bad and the ugly
Another Liga MX season is in the books, with Pachuca taking the Clausura trophy on Sunday evening against a despondent Monterrey to lift its sixth Mexican first-division title.
Here are some of the main talking points from the 2016 Clausura.
Pachuca won the title, but both the Tuzos and runners-up Monterrey deserve credit for excellent seasons.
Monterrey dominated the regular season in a way that few teams do in Mexico, earning 37 points over their 17 matches. There were some nervous moments in getting to the final in both the quarterfinal against city rivals Tigres and in the semifinal versus Club America, but Los Rayados have an exciting and very talented squad that will no doubt continue to challenge for trophies in coming seasons.
Pachuca plugged in Colombian international Oscar Murillo and U.S. international Omar Gonzalez into the center-back positions and played its attacking brand of football with increased solidity and confidence. Young Uruguayan head coach Diego Alonso is gaining a very good reputation for himself and the trio of national team prospects Erick Gutierrez, Rodolfo Pizarro and Hirving Lozano made sure Pachuca was the team to watch each week. In a few years, we may well look back at this Clausura and the performances of that young trio and appreciate what they have achieved even more.
The resurgence of Chivas was also a major story this Clausura. Things didn't exactly start well with the club failing to win any of its first eight regular season matches, but the players adapted well to Matias Almeyda' s swashbuckling and aggressive offensive demands.
After their first win against Queretaro in week nine, Chivas managed to build momentum and reach the postseason. Although they exited the playoffs against Club America in an intense series, there is much to look forward to next season, as well as a real sense of intrigue about how their in-house production of home games on Chivas TV will play out.
Part and parcel of that Chivas rebirth has been young players like Carlos Cisneros, Javier Lopez, Angel Zaldivar and Orbelin Pineda. It should also be mentioned that Pachuca's hero on Sunday, goal scorer Victor Guzman, was raised in the Chivas youth system and was playing on-loan with the Tuzos from Chivas during the Clausura.
But it isn't just Chivas and Pachuca with promising youngsters who have impressed this Clausura. Over at Monterrey, 19-year-old center-back Cesar Montes has been outstanding, while Tijuana's Carlos Guzman and Santos Laguna's Jose Abella have also enjoyed good seasons. Expect to see all of them at the Olympics.
Finally, there were an average of 2.87 goals per games over the whole season and an average of 27,788 fans per game in the regular season. There are many leagues all over that would be envious of those statistics.
The best place to start here is Cruz Azul. For a team that continues to spend big money on bringing in players of the quality of Victor Vazquez and Jorge Benitez, not even making the playoffs has to be seen as a major failure. Coach Tomas Boy has been given the vote of confidence to continue into the 2016 Apertura, but you can imagine he won't last long if things don't start very well.
There was more disappointment for Mexican teams in the Copa Libertadores, with Toluca crashing out at the round of 16 stage against Sao Paulo and Pumas in the quarterfinals against Ecuadorian outfit Independiente del Valle. The wait for the first Mexican team to win the Copa Libertadores goes on and, in truth, Toluca and Pumas didn't really look like coming close, with both missing out on the Liga MX playoffs in the process. Jose Cardozo left Toluca after the Clausura ended, as did Guillermo Vazquez from Pumas.
Dorados de Sinaloa went back down to the Ascenso MX without much of a fight, while Tigres' star-studded squad only managed the quarterfinals in the Liga MX and lost out to Club America in the CONCACAF Champions League final.
Perhaps the prize for the worst team of the season should go to Atlas. Los Rojinegros were supposed to have turned a corner when Grupo Salinas bought them just over two years ago, but they are still as lost and directionless as always, even with Rafa Marquez back at the club. The team from Guadalajara finished in 15th place in the league and will be hoping incoming coach Jose "El Profe" Cruz can lift them next season.
Carlos Sanchez leaving Monterrey to join up with Uruguay ahead of the Copa America wasn't exactly great, especially as he had been arguably the player of the season. Would the title have stayed in the north if Sanchez had played in the final? We'll never know, but Sanchez impacted a lot of games for Monterrey.
But the ugliest situation came just last week with the 10/8 rule, designed to guarantee a minimum of eight Mexico-born players in each Liga MX team's 18-player squad. It has caused a Marquez-led backlash and evoked a fierce debate about the future of the national team.
The truth is that the fact South American players can gain Mexican citizen in just two years complicates the issue. But the real problem is not the foreign-born players, but the owners themselves. Very few seem to have long term visions for their clubs in which home-grown players play an important role, instead of the cheaper foreign and naturalized players, for whom Mexico is an attractive option. Inflated wages and transfer fees caused by the "Pacto de Caballeros" -- which means players don't have freedom of movement after a contract expires -- adds another layer of complexity.
Finally, the failure to pay wages at Chiapas and Dorados increased negative publicity. The justification for continued multi-ownership of clubs in the Mexican game is that it is difficult to find appropriate owners. But the existence of club owners who have been let in and still can't manage to pay players has to go against that particular line of thinking. Liga MX president Enrique Bonilla has confirmed that Chiapas will likely have new owners for next season, while Bonilla further suggested there will also be a team in San Luis, although he wouldn't say which team will be relocated.
All the above provided reminders that structurally Liga MX may need significant reform if it is to challenge bigger leagues for popularity over the long term.
Tom Marshall covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MexicoWorldCup.