Liga MX-MLS rivalry stoked by player movement

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Liga MX v MLS

Liga MX giants Monterrey (Photo by JULIO CESAR AGUILAR/AFP via Getty Images)

Rodolfo Pizarro caused a media uproar by exchanging the Liga MX for life in MLS. But how do the two leagues compare?

As the New Year began, North American soccer fans were looking forward to a tantalizing slate of international matches. Liga MX was prepared to extend its 14-year stranglehold on the Concacaf Champions League while the 2020 edition of the Leagues Cup was scheduled to begin in July.

So naturally, a popular topic for pundits in Mexico – a notoriously hyper-critical bunch – was whether or not MLS was sneaking past Liga MX for regional supremacy.

After all, the U.S. league was beginning to attract Mexican “idols” and Liga MX “stars” in their heyday. In years past, MLS was sneered at as a place for fading stars to collect one last big pay-day, a la Jorge Campos and Cuauhtémoc Blanco.

That started to change when El Tri heroes such as Gio dos Santos, Carlos Vela and Jona dos Santos moved to MLS in their prime. Liga MX was suddenly bidding against MLS to retain its stars, both Mexicans and internationals.

Peru international Raúl Ruidiaz (a two-time Liga MX scoring champ) left Morelia for Seattle in June 2018 and Darwin Quintero (Colombia) traded in his América jersey for a Minnesota United kit a few months earlier. Víctor Vázquez (Cruz Azul to Toronto FC) and Maxi Moralez (León to NYCFC) trod that same path a summer earlier.

Alarm bells were sounded in December when Liga MX co-scoring leader Alan Pulido announced he was leaving the Chivas for Sporting Kansas City. Within days, Puebla’s top striker Lucas Cavallini had departed for the Vancouver Whitecaps and Tigres playmaker Lucas Zelarayán accepted a contract from Columbus Crew SC.

By February, reports leaked that Monterrey Rayados star Rodolfo Pizarro was forcing his way out to sign with David Beckham’s Inter Miami project amid howls of indignation. In February, rumors emerged hinting that one-time can’t-miss starlet Juergen Damm would leave Tigres for an unidentified MLS franchise.

This prompted a flood of reporting suggesting that Liga MX was vulnerable, that it was being outmaneuvered by MLS. The sporting press in Mexico hammered Liga MX officials and front offices across the league.

When legends Javier Aguirre and Hugo Sánchez declared in April that MLS was “a step ahead” of Liga MX, the talking heads exploded. The fuss and kerfuffle would make one think Liga MX was doomed.

Liga MX president Enrique Bonilla pointedly refused to characterize the player movement as a flight of talent, saying these were simply personal decisions by a few individual players based on financial considerations. “In truth, this is positive for both leagues,” he told reporters in April.

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