Week 3: Monterrey-Cruz Azul clash is marquee match-up

Carlos Rodriguez (left) will be wearing his new Cruz Azul jersey when he returns to Monterrey this weekend. (Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images)
Carlos Rodriguez (left) will be wearing his new Cruz Azul jersey when he returns to Monterrey this weekend. (Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images) /
Liga MX Week 3
Luis Romo (right) will face his former teammates when Cruz Azul visits Monterrey in a key Liga MX clash on Saturday. (Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images) /

Matchday 3 in Liga MX kicked off in San Luis Potosí Thursday night as FC Juárez edged 10-man Atlético de San Luis in a “Relegation Zone” tussle. The Bravos were granted two penalty kicks, converting the second in minute 82.

However, Liga MX fans will be focused on four other key early-season clashes this weekend, two of which will take place simultaneously.

Monterrey welcomes Carlos Rodríguez back to Estadio BBVA Bancomer on Saturday night at the same time that title hopeful América hosts defending Liga MX champs Atlas.

Sunday offers a marquee match-up as league-leading Pumas will take on the Tigres who are in desperate need of a win, while Saturday provides fans with a family feud as Pachuca visits León (both Tuzos and the Esmeraldas are owned by Grupo Pachuca).

Cruz Azul at Monterrey: Liga MX Finals preview?

Cruz Azul is one season removed from hoisting the Liga MX trophy while Monterrey has boasted the league’s biggest payroll for at least three seasons running.

The Cementeros have not been terribly impressive through two games, but they have two wins. Rayados stunk it up in their home opener (a scoreless draw against lowly Querétaro) before crushing Necaxa last week.

The big story will be in midfield where Carlos Rodríguez and Luis Romo will square off after the two national team stars were traded for each other just after the New Year. Charlie came up through the Monterrey system, debuted at the age of 19 and played 99 Liga MX matches with Rayados. His trade came as a surprise to many.

Romo helped the Cementeros claim the Liga MX crown two seasons ago, but had a falling out with coach Juan Reynoso, forcing management to trade him or risk losing him on a free transfer at the end of the year.

Rodríguez has scored in each of Cruz Azul’s first two games while Romo had an assist in Monterrey’s 4-0 rout of Necaxa. The midfielders were teammates on Mexico’s bronze medal-winning Olympic squad, so they know each other quite well.

América wants what Atlas has

Coach Santiago Solari has no doubt that if he doesn’t guide the Aguilas to a league championship this season, his term could come to a quick end. Such is life at the winningest institution in Liga MX (13 league titles).

The pressure is not the same for Atlas who ended a 70-year drought by claiming the Liga MX trophy last season. The Zorros will not rest on their laurels, however, as Diego Cocca still boasts a first-class defense and a roster littered with savvy veterans and callow talent from the fertile Atlas academy system.

América was the first team to make a splash in the winter transfer market, acquiring Santos playmaker Diego Valdés. However, the Chilean midfielder is still not ready to make his debut and Aguilas fans will have to wait to see him until after the FIFA break.

The Aguilas have played just once thus far – a 1-1 draw at Puebla on Matchday 1 – as their game at Mazatlán FC was postponed since the Cañoneros stadium is undergoing renovations.

Atlas will be short-handed too. The Zorros could be without their starting forwards for a second straight game. Julio Furch has yet to play this season after contracting Covid and Quiñones was sent into isolation after testing positive last week.

Cat fight in the CU

Pumas had one of the worst offenses in Liga MX last season before a late-season revival saw them sneak into the playoffs. This season, the Mexico City side has eight goals in two matches and its +7 goal differential has UNAM atop the table.

That scoring pace might be hard to maintain, however, since young playmaker Marco García suffered a broken leg at Querétaro last week. Fullback Alan Mozo will also be unavailable due to a red-card suspension. His rampaging runs down the right flank will be sorely missed.

Tigres are a legitimate title favorite but their roster full of all stars has stumbled out of the gate (1-1 draw at Santos, 2-0 home loss to Puebla). New acquisition Sebastián Córdova is struggling to fit into the line-up though the midfielder played under Miguel Herrera for six seasons at América.

This past week, Tigres addressed their defensive issues, acquiring Chile international Igor Lichnovsky. But the former Cruz Azul star is not yet game-ready. What Herrera really needs is for the strike tandem of André-Pierre Gignac and Nico López to find their rhythm. López missed the season opener thanks to a positive Covid test.

UNAM gets stalwart defender Nicolás Freire back from injury row and his back-line mates will have to be on their toes if they hope to defeat Tigres in Mexico City for the first time since Dec. 2, 2018.

Sibling rivalry (?) in the Camp Nou

Though Tuzos and Esmeraldas are owned by the same conglomerate, the two clubs don’t have an antagonistic relationship. While León has become a playoff protagonist, Pachuca has struggled to remain relevant in Liga MX.

The Tuzos were cursed with slow starts in recent years, but Mexico’s oldest soccer club (founded in 1901) has won both its games to open the Clausura 2022. León – last season’s losing finalist – has managed two pedestrian draws.

The Esmeraldas will be eager to rediscover the flowing offense that has become their trademark while Pachuca will hope that veteran Oscar Murillo will be able to lead its back line after the Colombia international missed last week’s match against the Chivas.

Elsewhere in Liga MX

The remaining Matchday 3 games see Mazatlán FC take on Toluca on Friday night, Querétaro visits Guadalajara on Saturday, while Necaxa at Santos Laguna brings the curtain down on the Liga MX weekend. The Puebla-Tijuana contest has been postponed since more than 10 Xolos players tested positive for Covid.

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Liga MX takes a two-week break after Sunday as World Cup qualifiers resume across CONCACAF. El Tri visits Jamaica next Thursday before returning to Mexico to host Costa Rica (Jan. 30) and Panama (Feb. 2).