Liga MX cream starts rising to the top

Sebastián Córdova scored the only goal América would need in its 1-0 win over Atlas Sunday. Córdova helped El Tri win a bronze medal on Tokyo. (Photo by Refugio Ruiz/Getty Images)
Sebastián Córdova scored the only goal América would need in its 1-0 win over Atlas Sunday. Córdova helped El Tri win a bronze medal on Tokyo. (Photo by Refugio Ruiz/Getty Images) /
Liga MX cream
Cruz Azul’s Orbelín Pineda (right) scored a goal in his first league game since returning from national team duty. (Photo by Jaime Lopez/Jam Media/Getty Images) /

Through four weeks of play in Liga MX and it still looks like exhibition season with long patches of sloppy play inducing cringes and shudders from soccer fans tuning in.

But the 35 players out on international duty with two El Tri squads (Gold Cup and Olympics) are back in camp and the dozen or so South Americans who returned late after the Copa América are at full speed. And with a three-games-in-eight-days stretch under way, the timing couldn’t be better, especially for those teams who’d been left short-handed during the first three weeks of play.

This suggests that the powerhouse clubs should start hitting their stride heading into the FIFA break in early September. The smaller Liga MX clubs who failed to get a leg up in the early weeks might find it difficult to gain traction through the second half of the Apertura 2021.

With 6 more points at stake through next Sunday, the standings could shake out into a more familiar pattern.

National teamers back in the fold

Perennial favorite América sits atop the standings already even as its four bronze medalists only just returned to the locker room in time for Thursday’s Concacaf Champions League contest. The quartet of Olympians are still recovering from their six-games-in-16-days marathon and since all four could be summoned for the September World Cup qualifiers, the Aguilas will be forced to monitor their minutes.

Despite this challenge, América’s deep bench will surely keep them in contention for a Top 4 playoff seed and the club’s quick start has the Aguilas in great position, a stark contrast to their big rivals Chivas.

Guadalajara also had four players in Tokyo but with a thinner bench than América “El Rebaño Sagrado” has struggled to find its footing, managing just one win through four matches. All four Olympians saw action Sunday but only Alexis Vega played 90 minutes and the Chivas failed to score, settling for a scoreless draw against Santos.

More from Playing for 90

Reigning Liga MX champs Cruz Azul has perked up as winger Roberto Alvarado, midfielder Luis Romo and goalie Sebastián Jurado returned from the Olympics. Playmaker Orbelín Pineda is also back in the line-up following his passage with El Tri at the Gold Cup. All three helped the Cementeros rout league-leading Toluca 4-0 at the weekend and “La Máquina” has climbed from 13th to 5th thanks to a two-game win streak.

Cruz Azul not only had those four players away on duty with El Tri, but were coping without starting goalie Jesús Corona (broken hand) and were gradually re-incorporating four players who returned late from the Copa América. Coach Juan Reynoso juggled the roster the best he could, but had to settle for a 0-1-1 start.

With a full complement of players (minus Corona), the Cementeros flashed the explosiveness of last season’s championship run and dismantled Toluca.

Cruz Azul does not have time to rest on its laurels, however, as Monterrey pays a visit on Wednesday. The Rayados are another big club just getting its full roster settled. Three members of the northern powerhouse were in Tokyo and two others were at the Gold Cup. The Rayados leaped from 8th to 4th after a convincing 3-1 win over Pachuca thanks to a brace from Rogelio Funes Mori.

Early Liga MX leaders try to hold on

The Diablos Rojos were a good example of a team jumping out to a fast start while other Liga MX clubs made do without national team players (there were 35 Liga MX stars at the Gold Cup or in Tokyo), but they were brought back to earth at Estadio Azteca.

Diablos coach Hernán Cristante will hope those early 9 points from their 3-0-0 start will give them a leg up as they head into the heart of the season. Tomorrow night, “Los Choriceros” host Mazatlán FC, another club that benefited from the absence of Team Mexico players (the Cañoneros defeated Cruz Azul 2-0 in the season opener), and neither team wants to drop points before the going gets tougher.

Mazatlán missed the Liga MX playoffs last season but was in the top three after each of the first three matchdays. Reality struck hard this past weekend, however, when León manhandled the Cañoneros 3-0.

Next. Barça open post-Messi era with win. dark

Atlético de San Luis was another also-ran who was near the top of the Liga MX table before the prodigal sons of El Tri returned, but the Tuneros squandered the early good news with an atrocious 2-0 loss at cellar-dwelling Necaxa last week. Unfortunately, San Luis will have to wallow in disappointment since its Matchday 5 game vs Pachuca was postponed.