New Liga MX season off to topsy-turvy start

Toluca striker Alexis Canelo (right) is on pace to defend his Liga MX scoring title. (Photo by Manuel Velasquez/Getty Images)
Toluca striker Alexis Canelo (right) is on pace to defend his Liga MX scoring title. (Photo by Manuel Velasquez/Getty Images) /
Liga MX Matchday 3
Mazatlan FC striker Camilo Sanvezzo (left) – here in action vs Cruz Azul – has two goals in two games. (Photo by Manuel Velasquez/Getty Images) /

The Apertura 2021 has gotten off to a subdued start, overshadowed by the Gold Cup calamity and the medal chase by El Tri Olímpico. In fact, Liga MX kicked off Matchday 3 last night (León earned a 1-0 road win at Querétaro) with several teams still waiting for key players to return to the fold.

Fourteen members of the Gold Cup squad are back with their Liga MX clubs (although Pumas goalie Alfredo Talavera is unavailable this weekend after testing positive for Covid) but heavy minutes will force a few teams to rest their returning starters.

The absence of these players – in addition to the 21 Olympians still in Japan – has produced a number of “surprises” and an anomaly or two in the standings.

As the international players settle back into their Liga MX routines over the next few weeks, we can expect “normalcy” to return by the end of the month. But until then, a couple “underdogs” might be able to ride early-season momentum into a playoff berth.

Toluca, Mazatlán sit atop Liga MX

The Diablos Rojos and the Cañoneros are off to a perfect start, while last season’s cellar dweller Atlético San Luis is sitting in sixth with a 1-1-0 record. Meanwhile, holders Cruz Azul are winless.

Toluca again boasts one of the top offenses in Liga MX thanks to a pair of 3-1 victories (vs FC Juárez and Tigres) and a win at lowly Tijuana on Saturday would see the Diablos sitting on 9 points. With a start like that, coach Hernán Cristante would be confident that “Los Choriceros” could improve on their 11th place finish last season.

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Mazatlán FC took advantage of a short-handed Cruz Azul team – the Liga MX champs were missing eight players – to steal a 2-0 win at Estadio Azteca in the opener, then upset slow-starting Pachuca thanks to a brace from Camilo Sanvezzo. The Cañoneros missed the playoffs last season and their opponent this weekend – Monterrey – has three starters still on duty in Japan. A second straight win at the Kraken could help propel Mazatlán FC into playoff contention come October.

As for the reigning Liga MX champs, well Cruz Azul wrestled a point from a visit to Santos Laguna last weekend despite being short 10 men (injuries and international duty) in a rematch of last season’s Liga MX Final. The understaffed Cementeros head into a Matchday 3 contest at last place Necaxa with just 1 point. “La Máquina Azul” did just acquire Venezuelan playmaker Rómulo Otero, but he is not likely to contribute right away.

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Notes: The Toluca duo of Alexis Canelo and Rubens Sambueza picked up right where they left off last season. Canelo – the reigning Liga MX scoring champ (11 goals) – sits atop the scoring chart with 3 goals, while Sambueza – the top assist man last season (6) – leads all players with 3 helpers already this season.