Champs Atlas face Cruz Azul in trifling Cup match

By winning back-to-back titles, Atlas is officially the Campeon de Campeones, but a Cup match will be played anyway. (Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images)
By winning back-to-back titles, Atlas is officially the Campeon de Campeones, but a Cup match will be played anyway. (Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images) /
Liga MX Campeon Campeones
Uriel Antuna (left) and Cruz Azul will face Luis Reyes (right) and Atlas in the Campeon de Campeones Cup, the traditional Liga MX kick-off match. (Photo by CLAUDIO CRUZ/AFP via Getty Images) /

The new Liga MX season kicks off Sunday with a “meaningless” Champions Cup. The event – the Campeón de Campeones – traditionally pits the previous two Liga MX champions but Atlas won both the Apertura 2021 and the Clausura 2022 titles.

Naturally, the Liga MX will still hold the “Champions Cup,” inviting Cruz Azul – the last Liga MX champ before Atlas’ back-to-back titles – to take part in the trophy-less contest at the LA Galaxy home field in Carson, California.

Neither the Zorros nor the Cementeros have made significant roster changes, but both clubs expect to challenge for the Apertura 2022 title.

Atlas has only added left back Idekel Domínguez (from Necaxa), while releasing four seldom-used scrubs. Cruz Azul has yet to bring in any new faces, while veteran defenders Pablo Aguilar and Adrián Aldrete were let go.

Elsewhere around Liga MX

As already reported, América has made the biggest splash thus far, repatriating El Tri defender Néstor Araujo (from Celta de Vigo) and bringing two-time Liga MX scoring leader Jonathan Rodríguez back to Mexico.

Cementeros fans might feel betrayed by both moves: Araujo came up through the Cruz Azul academy system and Rodríguez forced his way out of La Noria back in December by demanding a wage increase.

Rodríguez left “La Máquina” for a big payday in Saudi Arabia, but he’s now desperate to see more game action against quality opponents in hopes of making Uruguay’s World Cup roster.

When Cruz Azul got wind of J-Rod’s intentions, they submitted an offer, but it didn’t match up to the money dangled by América (an estimated $2.5 million-dollar salary, plus add-ons) and Rodríguez didn’t think twice, quickly joining the Cementeros’ bitter rivals.

Speaking of Cruz Azul, new coach Diego Aguirre is leaning toward naming Sebastián Jurado his No. 1 goalie.

Long-time skipper Jesús Corona is healthy again, but at 41 is seen as a bit long in the tooth. Jurado, 24, now has a chance to make a bid for his eventual inclusion in the pantheon of great Cruz Azul netminders, a list topped by Mario Marín, Oscar “Conejo” Pérez and Corona.

As for América, the addition of “Cabecita” means the Aguilas have too many foreigners on their roster and they are expected to release two or more of the following: Uruguayan striker Federico Viñas, Colombian winger Juan Otero, Paraguayan defender Bruno Valdez, Uruguayan defender Sebastián Cáceres.

Viñas is surplus to needs, but there have been no serious offers for the burly forward so he is likely to start the season on the roster. The injury-prone Otero was unable to make an impression in his first season at Coapa.

Valdez was early identified as a casualty but his insistence on maintaining his wage packet has made it difficult to find a trade partner for the South American hard man. América might have to agree to pay part of Valdez’s salary to complete a pending deal with FC Juárez. Cáceres is reportedly pursuing a move to Spain but nothing concrete has been presented.

From the registrar’s office

Former Liga MX scoring champ Alexis Canelo was shipped to Tijuana by Toluca who also released home-grown prospect Kevin Castañeda.

Canelo won the Golden Boot with 11 goals in the Guardianes 2021 season, but then saw his production diminish considerably, scoring just 6 goals in 27 games since. Castañeda, 22 and a midfielder, will also join Tijuana as has defender Jair Díaz (from Tigres).

Clausura 2022 finalist Pachuca has bolstered its midfield, snapping up Paulino de la Fuente, 24, a Spanish midfielder from Malaga (2nd division) and Colombian Marino Hinestroza who was acquired on a free from América de Cali.

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And finally, Dutchman Vincent Janssen has bid adios to Liga MX, leaving the Rayados of Monterrey after three years (and a modest 24 goals in 94 games) for Belgium’s Royal Antwerp.