Champs get statement victory; América, Monterrey falter

Nicolás Ibáñez and Pachuca got off to a flying start Monday, routing Puebla 5-1 as they made it clear they intend to defend their crown. (Photo by Jam Media/Getty Images)
Nicolás Ibáñez and Pachuca got off to a flying start Monday, routing Puebla 5-1 as they made it clear they intend to defend their crown. (Photo by Jam Media/Getty Images) /
Liga MX M1
Álvaro Fidalgo (left) and America led Liga MX in scoring last season but could not find the net against the worst team in the league on Saturday. (Photo by Mauricio Salas/Jam Media/Getty Images) /

Matchday 1 is in the books (mostly) and here are the top Liga MX headlines:

  • Pachuca declares intent to defend its crown
  • Top two bettors’ favorites open Clausura 2023 shooting blanks
  • Cruz Azul controversies cloud key road result

The reason for the parenthetical adverb in the first sentence is that two M1 matches were postponed – the Mazatlán-León match because of security issues in Sinaloa and the Atlas-Toluca match because of poor field conditions.

Holders shine on home turf in opener

Pachuca brought Liga MX Opening Weekend to a close Monday night demonstrating they have every intention of chasing back-to-back titles.

Last season’s scoring champ Nico Ibáñez scored twice to lead a high-powered Tuzos offense in a 5-1 win over Puebla, ruining Camoteros coach Eduardo Arce’s Liga MX debut in the process.

Luis Chávez showed his impressive World Cup performance was no fluke, firing home a free kick in minute 5. Ibáñez followed with his first 3 minutes later but flubbed a penalty kick just before halftime.

Nine minutes of inspiration in the second half put the game to bed with 20 minutes remaining as “Chofis” López (62’), Kevin Álvarez (65’) and Ibáñez (71) finished off sparkling plays that had the Estadio Hidalgo crowd roaring.

The 4-goal margin of victory has Pachuca in first place, but the Liga MX champs face a tough test next as they pay a visit to Tigres, one of five Liga MX teams with 3 points after Matchday 1. This match is arguably a Liga MX Finals preview.

As for Puebla, Arce’s first year on the job was always going to be difficult. Succeeding the popular Nicolás Larcamón was never going to be easy, especially after the front office stripped “La Franja” for parts (the club sold top young defender Israel Reyes to América and sent dynamic winger Maxi Araujo to Toluca).

América, Monterrey stumble out of gate

The Aguilas finished atop the Liga MX standings last season while the Rayados finished second. With stacked rosters, América and Monterrey are clear Clausura 2023 title favorites.

So what happened?

The Aguilas were the highest-scoring Liga MX team a season ago, and the Rayados finished third in the goal-scoring table

Neither deep-pocketed team managed to score in their openers. América was held to a scoreless draw – at home – against Querétaro, the consensus worst Liga MX franchise.

Monterrey was a veritable Gang that Couldn’t Shoot Straight, firing off 24 shots against Guadalajara – including a penalty shot – but failing to beat Miguel Jiménez and losing 1-0.

The Chivas keeper made 8 saves and an Alexis Vega banger deflected off Rayados defender (and Vega’s El Tri teammate) Héctor Moreno to give “El Rebaño Sagrado” a confidence-boosting road win.

There’s certainly no cause for alarm – América and Monterrey got identical results last season. Both clubs will be shoo-ins for the Liga MX playoffs come May (not a risky bet since Liga MX admits 12 of the 18 teams to the postseason party).

The Aguilas travel to Toluca next weekend with revenge on its mind. The Diablos Rojos eliminated heavily favored América in the semifinals a mere two-and-a-half months ago.

As for Monterrey, the Rayados will be at Estadio Azteca Saturday to take on Cruz Azul, the subject of our next headline.

Cementeros rebuff offer for Antuna, Cata draws ire of Liga MX

Cruz Azul got a late goal from Charlie Rodríguez to claim a draw on the road but off-field shenanigans overshadowed the result.

Winger Uriel Antuna and defender Julio César Domínguez did not make the trip to Tijuana. Antuna was awaiting approval of a transfer to Greek giant Panathinaikos while Domínguez is facing sanctions, possibly even dismissal from the team.

Antuna was crushed when Cementeros ownership rejected Panathinaikos’ third and final offer so the 25-year-old Mexico international appears resigned to remaining in Liga MX at least the next six months.

As for Domínguez, an incredibly bone-headed decision could see his 17-year career come to an end. The all-time Cruz Azul record-holder for Liga MX appearances threw a narco-themed birthday party for his 12-year-old son, just days after the arrest of a Most Wanted drug lord left 29 people dead in Sinaloa.

All Liga MX contracts have a morality clause and club and league officials are weighing the consequences which could range from a stiff fine to banishment.

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Domínguez made a public apology, and Liga MX is not known for taking principled stands, so we would be surprised if the 35-year-old faces the ultimate punishment