Liga MX: Three things from Opening Weekend

Liga MX season – the Guardianes 2021 – off to topsy-turvy start

The traditional quick turnaround between the Apertura and Clausura seasons in Liga MX produced some raggedy play on Matchday 1 as five teams were back on the pitch just a few weeks after finishing up December play.

León and UNAM finished up the Guardianes 2020 Final on Dec. 13, while the Tigres, América and Cruz Azul were in Orlando for Concacaf Champions League matches stretching from Dec. 15 through Dec. 22).

That left little time for roster shuffling, vacation time and brief training camps, all while the pandemic continues to rampage across Mexico.

As a result, teams will take several weeks rounding into shape. A look at the standings makes that clear as eigning champs León are in last place while América was the lone member of The Big Four to kick off the season with a victory.

With that in mind, here are three things I found interesting as the Guardianes 2021got under way.

Newcomers making immediate impact

Mauro Lainez and Pedro Aquino made significant contributions in their debuts with América on Saturday night. Lainez powered home a left-footed blast on a breakaway in minute 26 to give the Aguilas a 1-0 lead against Atlético de San Luis. The 24-year-old winger is on loan to América from Tijuana.

Aquino – fresh off his title-winning campaign with León – subbed on in minute 70 and came up with the game-winning assist. His pass in minute 89 freed up Sebastián Córdova for an easy chip over the onrushing Axel Werner and a 2-1 win for the winningest Liga MX franchise.

Up north, Carlos González scored the clincher in the Tigres’ 2-0 victory over León, poking home a rebound off his own header in minute 67. The goal gave the Paraguayan striker a small measure of revenge as he was on the Pumas squad that lost to the Esmeraldas in last season’s Liga MX Final.

Striker Mauro Quiroga did little in his first match with Pachuca, but the big Argentine was a game-saver deep into added time against the Bravos of FC Juárez. Trailing 1-0 with each team playing with 10 men, Quiroga rose above his marker just inside the penalty spot to nod home a cross from Felipe Pardo in minute 90+5. “El Comandante” is coming off a disappointing season in San Luis, but Tuzos coach Paulo Pezzolano hopes the former Liga MX goal-scoring champ (Clausura 2019) can rediscover the form he showed with Necaxa.

How’d the new Liga MX coaches do?

The seven new Liga MX coaches had mixed results on Opening Weekend, posting a 2-2-2 record. Alert readers will notice that adds up to six results, so let me explain.

New América manager Santiago Solari – an Argentine – “coached” from the grandstand as he was not legally permitted on the field because his work permit has not been authorized yet. As such, the win officially goes to Gilberto Adame, a holdover assistant from Miguel Herrera’s staff who was retained to serve as head coach until Immigration sorts things out.

Solari and members of his staff expect to finish the legal paperwork at Mexico’s Consulate in Houston early this week.

Elsewhere over the weekend, Javier Aguirre (Monterrey) and Hernán Cristante (Toluca) were triumphant. Aguirre led the Rayados to an easy 2-0 victory over Atlas, while Cristante began his second stint in charge of the Diablos Rojos with a 3-1 win over Querétaro.

Those wins were no big surprise as Atlas finished last season in 16th place, while the Gallos Blancos now have a 10-game winless streak – 0-3-7. Ironically, Querétaro’s last Liga MX win came against Toluca back on Sept. 3.

Nicolás Lacarmón (Puebla) and Luis Fernando Tena (FC Juárez) settled for identical 1-1 draws against the Chivas and Pachuca, respectively.

The debutante losers were Atlético de San Luis coach Leonel Rocco (vs. América) and Cruz Azul’s Juan Reynoso (1-0 loss at Santos Laguna).

A Few Numbers

21

The number of goals scored on Opening Weekend in Liga MX. That comes out to an average of a modest 2.3 goals per game, although there was just one scoreless game on Matchday 1 (Pumas at Xolos).

8

The Rayados have now won 8 of their past 10 contests versus Atlas after giving “El Vasco” Aguirre a win in his first game back in Liga MX since 2002. Rogelio Funes Mori netted both goals in the 2-0 victory.

7

Puebla is undefeated in its last 7 games vs Guadalajara (4-3-0) after the host Camoteros fought the favored Chivas to a 1-1 draw in the Liga MX season opener. The visitors squandered a penalty opportunity that could have made the difference (Chivas captain Jesús Molina was the culprit; designated penalty taker J.J. Macías missed the game after a positive Covid test).

5

Mazatlán handed Necaxa its first regular-season loss since Sept. 18 while ending the Rayos 5-game regular-season win streak. Mazatlán provided a rousing 3-2 win to fans in attendance at “El Kraken” (Liga MX authorized 40% attendance) in the Sinaloa port city. The Rayos fought back from an early 2-0 deficit, but a Camilo Sanvezzo penalty conversion in minute 71 provided the winning margin. Mazatlán is now one-quarter of the way to matching its Guardianes 2020 win total.

3

Penalty kicks scored. Rogelio Funes Mori (Monterrey), Camilo Sanvezzo (Mazatlán FC) and Angel Sepúlveda (Querétaro) converted from the spot in Matchday 1.

3

Red cards brandished during Opening Weekend. Oscar Murillo (Pachuca), Marco Fabián (FC Juárez) and José Abella (Atlas) were sent to the showers early.