Cartel violence forces postponement of FC Mazatlán season opener

Mazatlán's Kraken Stadium will remain empty tonight as Liga MX officials postponed the Cañoneros' match against León due to cartel-related violence. (Photo by Sergio Mejia/Getty Images)
Mazatlán's Kraken Stadium will remain empty tonight as Liga MX officials postponed the Cañoneros' match against León due to cartel-related violence. (Photo by Sergio Mejia/Getty Images) /
Liga MX Mazatlan postponed
América named Oscar Jimenez as its starting goalkeeper for this weekend’s Liga MX opener against Querétaro. Jiménez will get first crack at replacing the departed Guillermo Ochoa. (Photo by Jaime Lopez/Jam Media/Getty Images) /

The new Liga MX season is upon us but the Opening Night show has been reduced by half and a second contest is at risk of being postponed.

The spectacular Thursday morning operation to arrest drug kingpin Ovidio Guzmán in Los Mochis, Sinaloa, unleashed a violent reaction by the capo’s henchman.

As regional airports shut down and government officials advised locals to shelter in place, Liga MX officials postponed the Mazatlán FC-León match scheduled for tonight. Mexico’s second division also postponed the Dorados-Correcaminos game that was set to kick off last night at Culiacán’s Estadio Banorte.

That leaves the Necaxa-Atlético de San Luis match as Friday’s lone Opening Night event … but it is only available in Mexico on the Vix+ streaming service.

Estadio Jalisco pitch unplayable? Security issues in Cd. Juárez

The home field of the Zorros of Atlas is being examined to see if it is fit to host Saturday’s Atlas-Toluca clash and it doesn’t look good.

Estadio Jalisco hosted five Copa por México matches last month as well as a rock concert and the condition of the turf was such that the Copa Final was moved across town to Guadalajara’s Estadio Akron.

Atlas team officials were concerned about the field and the risk it posed to players and alerted Liga MX officials who will make a decision about the game in the coming hours.

Another Liga MX team with issues on Opening Weekend is FC Juárez. A prison break in the border city on Jan. 1 saw 17 people killed and five days later the fugitive drug lord who organized the escape was shot down just outside Cd. Juárez.

Since then, the Bravos organization has kept its facilities shuttered, advising Liga MX fans via social media that its ticket booth is closed until further notice.

The Bravos are not playing at home this weekend – they’ll face UNAM in Mexico City on Sunday – but the organization was not taking any chances.

Liga MX news and notes

América has decided it will open the Clausura 2023 with Óscar Jiménez in net. Memo Ochoa’s long-time back-up will get first crack at being the Aguilas’ No. 1 goalie, after a contentious preseason.

Ochoa declined a contract extension after the World Cup to accept an offer from Serie A club Salernitana and Jiménez quickly demanded he be given the job.

As commitment from the team was slow in coming, Jiménez threatened to leave if he were not named starting keeper. The 34-year-old Chihuahua native has been a quality back-up since joining América in 2017.

When América traded for Necaxa’s young netminder Luis Malagón last month a crisis seemed imminent. But Jiménez started all four of América’s  Copa por México matches with Malagón coming on as a second-half sub against Cruz Azul in the group-stage finale, his lone appearance.

The situation appears to have been resolved, however, as Jiménez signed a one-year extension on Jan. 2 and, three days later, it was announced that he would be the starter for the season opener.

Another goalie in the news was José Antonio Rodríguez. The Chivas sent Pepe Toño to Tijuana where the 30-year-old backstop will stand in for the injured Jonathan Orozco.

After a promising start to his career in Guadalajara, Rodríguez has become a bit of a journeyman, playing for six different franchises. This will be his second stint with the Xolos as Rodríguez spent six months on loan to Tijuana in 2017.

The Guadalajara native will get plenty of playing time up north as Orozco is expected to miss at least the first two months of the season following wrist surgery. Orozco played the second half of the Apertura 2022 with torn wrist ligaments.

Speaking of the Chivas, new coach Veljko Paunovic has said he will not rush JJ Macías back into the line-up.

The once-promising striker tore up his knee in June and is chomping at the bit to get back on the field as his rehab has progressed splendidly.

Once seen as a future Team Mexico star, Macías returned to Liga MX last year after a failed adventure in Spain with LaLiga side Getafe.

The Chivas hope he can return to the form he enjoyed with León as a teenager when his goals helped lead the Esmeraldas to the top of the Liga MX table in 2019.

Moving from Guadalajara to Mexico City is former Chivas captain Jesús Molina. The 34-year-old midfielder has accepted the minimum salary to join the Pumas where he hopes to revive his career.

Molina – a three-time Liga MX champ – has been plagued by injuries the past several seasons and his Clausura 2022 campaign was ended in February by a knee injury. He regained fitness in September but by then he had fallen way down the pecking order with Chivas.

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With his leadership skills, Molina could prove to be a solid locker-room presence with UNAM and he should provide depth to the Pumas midfield. He accepted a six-month deal and will hope to demonstrate his fitness such that he can attract one final multi-year contract offer before he retires.