No trades? No problem. Pumas, Chivas top table

Liga MX Pumas Chivas

With his first touch on his Liga MX debut, 20-year-old Pumas forward Jorge Ruvalcaba scored against Toluca to give UNAM a 4-0 lead. (Photo by Manuel Velasquez/Getty Images)

The two members of the Big Four that have done the least during the winter transfer window are comfortably sitting atop the Liga MX standings after the Pumas shellacked Toluca 5-0 on Monday night.

Neither Guadalajara nor UNAM have been very active on the trade market thus far. In fact, of the four players these two Liga MX “Giants” acquired through Jan. 10, three were in the Liga Expansión MX last season. That hardly compares to the transfer activities of América and Cruz Azul, the other half of “Los Cuatro Grandes.”

But the disappointment of not seeing their favorite team renovate its roster might have been forgiven by Chivas and Pumas fans after the Matchday 1 results.

The Chivas scored three times in eight minutes just before the half to put away Mazatlán FC in a breezy 3-0 victory, while the Pumas completely routed a depleted Toluca squad to claim first place thanks to its 5-0 goal differential.

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves …

It’s important to keep in mind several things related to the results cited above.

Mazatlán has never made the Liga MX playoffs in its brief history, and they carried out a significant roster upheaval (seven players out including the top two scorers; eight players in). It will be some time before Beñat San José can indoctrinate the new faces into his system and then figure out a preferred line-up.

Toluca had 11 players test positive for Covid last week, forcing the one-day postponement of its match with the Pumas, and so the Diablos played short-handed last night. Traded away are top scorer (and Liga MX assist leader) Rubens Sambueza and midfield dynamo José Juan Vázquez. It is apparent that new coach Nacho Ambriz has his work cut out for him.

Still, Chivas fans were left hoarse from cheering their heroes to victory, perhaps momentarily forgetting the increasingly popular insults targeting owner Amaury Vergara (the hashtag #ChivasNoEsParaCualquierDueno went viral briefly last week; roughly translated “Chivas is not for just any owner” which mocks Vergara for his tweet criticizing some players as not being Chivas material).

That could change, however, as there are conflicting reports about star striker Alexis Vega. One story has him closing in on a contract extension while a columnist in the same newspaper (Record) hints that Monterrey arrived with a bucketful of cash to entice the Olympic bronze medal winner to leave Guadalajara.

As for UNAM, Pumas fans have been overbusy with fretting and hand-wringing after finding out the cash-strapped club would not be spending money during the winter market. Instead, coach Andrés Lillini was informed that he’d be forced to rely on the team’s academy to fill out his roster.

That was a concern because the Pumas have not been cranking out young stars of late, and their most recent one – Erik Lira, 21 – was just sold to Cruz Azul. But against Toluca, home-grown midfielder Leo López seemed to grow more comfortable with the added responsibility placed upon him by Lira’s departure. And 20-year-old Jorge Ruvalcaba scored 47 seconds after stepping onto the pitch in his Liga MX debut for “Los Felinos.” So not all is bleak, especially if Lillini can get the club to play with the passion and discipline exhibited against Toluca.

Liga MX learning to live with Covid

Opening Week likely provides Liga MX fans with a good example of how the Clausura 2022 might play out. Two games were briefly postponed due to Covid infections, forcing coaches to dig deep into their bench and promote kids from their academies to complete game-day rosters.

There is still one more game this week (Saturday’s Santos-Tigres match was rescheduled for Wednesday, though the Tigres will be shorthanded) and, as is tradition, last season’s two finalists had their season openers pushed back to allow them sufficient vacation-plus-preseason-camp time.

Santos will “re-debut” coach Pedro Caixinha (he led Santos to the Clausura 2015 Liga MX title before leaving for other challenges, none of which went his way) with the goal of enacting revenge against the Tigres who eliminated the Guerreros from the Liga MX playoffs.

Tigres coach Miguel Herrera will have to make do without reigning Liga MX scoring champ Nico López, plus two other starters (Luis Quiñones and Javier Aquino) as well as super-sub Jesús Dueñas.

That still leaves one Opening Night match pending – a Finals rematch! The Apertura Finalists always get their Matchday 1 contest pushed back a bit to make up for the reduced between-seasons break they’d be forced to manage. Typically, that means two season-opening matches are delayed but this time the Week 1 raffle produced a repeat of the thrilling Atlas-Leon championship series. The rematch was rescheduled for Jan. 19.

And off the field, the pandemic is also impacting Liga MX. Team officials are working closely with local health authorities to determine how to handle attendance. The two Guadalajara teams (Chivas and Atlas) announced on Sunday that fans would have to show proof of vaccination or a negative test result to get into the stadium.