The 2015 Apertura season in Mexico could hardly have ended in more dramatic fashion. Trailing 3-0 to Tigres from the first leg of the Liga MX final, Pumas pulled back three goals to force extra time. They then dragged themselves level once again after Tigres thought they had a winner, only for Pumas to ultimately fall short in a penalty shootout. Anything approaching that level of entertainment when Liga MX resumes next month will make the 2016 Clausura season one not to miss. Here’s a look at some of the leading contenders and the big guns hoping for better:
It has been a sensational few months for Tigres, and particularly manager Ricardo “Tuca” Ferretti. Although he ultimately fell just short in the final of the Copa Libertadores, his interim spell in charge of Mexico climaxed in a victory over the United States in the Concacaf Cup and then he returned to Tigres to lead them to the Apertura title. With France striker André-Pierre Gignac thriving since his move and talent such as Guido Pizarro, Jurgen Damm and Javier Aquino, they have a good shot at landing the club’s first bicampeonato, despite losing some experienced squad players like Egido Arévalo Rios.
Under Guillermo Vázquez, Pumas exceeded expectations in the Apetura. With an experienced squad, they topped the table during the regular season before coming agonizingly close to landing the title in the Liguilla. The resolve they showed in fighting back time and again in the final will be needed again if they are to bounce back from the disappointment of falling short and go one better in the Clausura.
After finishing second in the table and securing a goalless draw at Tigres in the first leg of the Liguilla semifinal, Toluca looked well placed to go all the way. But two late goals in Toluca took Tigres through and left José Cardozo’s team disappointed. With the goals of Fernando Uribe and Enrique Triverio, and having completed the signing of Mexico full-back Gerardo Flores in the draft, they could be a threat again in 2016.
While the Mexico City giants landed the Concacaf Champions League title, 2015 ended in failure. They exited the Liguilla after a 3-1 win at Pumas proved insufficient to overturn an ignominious 3-0 defeat in the home leg of the semifinals. And matters got worse still when they crashed out of the quarterfinals of the FIFA Club World Cup to Asian champions Guangzhou Evergrande. Getting the best out of big-money signing Darwin Quintero will be crucial if América are to do better in the Clausura.
Pachuca continue to be one of the best breeding grounds for young talent in Mexico, which has helped to overcome the sale of top prospects like Jurgen Damm. Despite a disappointing finish in the 2015 Apertura, Pachuca look likely to only get stronger if they keep hold of starlets such as 20-year-old midfielder starlet Hirving Lozano. They have also added impressively to their squad in the winter draft.
The Guadalajara giants will be desperately looking to get back to the playoffs in the 2016 Clausura and ultimately earn a first Liga MX title in close to a decade. But first they have to steer clear of relegation. One team will go down at the end of the Clausura and Chivas currently sit just two places off the bottom of the relegation table, based on the average points picked up dating back to 2013. With the talent already at their disposal, and having added Mexico international Carlos Peña and young midfielder Orbelín Pineda in the winter draft, that shouldn’t be a problem.
Another giant that has fallen upon hard times. Cruz Azul finished a dismal 14th in the Apertura table and scored just 19 goals in 17 matches. They have tried to address that major failing by signing experienced Ecuador striker Joffre Guerrón from Tigres. Fans will hope he and his fellow signing, midfielder Aldo Leao, hit the ground running, and that there proves to be substance in rumors linking the club with Southampton’s Uruguayan playmaker Gastón Ramírez.
Plenty of eyes will be fixed on Tijuana in the 2016 Liga MX Clausura following Xolos appointment of former Mexico boss Miguel Herrera. The charismatic coach’s last action with the national team saw him win the Gold Cup before being fired for allegedly assaulting a journalist, and he is guaranteed to bring entertainment. His infectious enthusiasm could also bring an immediate impact to a squad that has been boosted by the signings of Mexico internationals Juan Carlos Valenzuela and Jesús Escoboza as well as United States international Greg Garza.