New Liga MX season off to bumpy start due to absence of El Tri, U-23 stars

FC Juárez players celebrate after Aitor García scored the game-winner against América in minute 90+5 in the Liga MX season opener for both clubs. (Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images)
FC Juárez players celebrate after Aitor García scored the game-winner against América in minute 90+5 in the Liga MX season opener for both clubs. (Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images) /
Liga MX AP23
Julián Quiñones (center) appears set to end his partnership with Julio Furch (left) with whom he won two Liga MX titles. The Colombian forward is on the verge of leaving Atlas for América. (Photo by Alfredo Moya/Jam Media/Getty Images) /

The new Liga MX season kicked off inauspiciously Friday night with sparse crowds, short-handed rosters and sloppy performances.

The bad news is this might be par for the course in the early stages of the Apertura 2023, particularly if El Tri reaches the final of the Gold Cup.

With Team Mexico already clinching a spot in the knockout round of the Concacaf tournament, 14 Liga MX-based players remain unavailable.

Add that to the absence of 10 or so members of the Under-23 team participating in the Central America & Caribbean Games and it’s no surprise that the domestic league will produce some spotty action.

Stunner at the ‘Coloso de Santa Ursula’

Liga MX title favorites América took the field at Estadio Azteca Friday night missing four players on Gold Cup duty (Henry Martín, Israel Reyes and Luis Malagón with El Tri, Alejandro Zendejas with Team USA) but were still expected to ease past FC Juárez.

After Leo Suárez put the Aguilas up at the quarter-hour mark with a golazo, all seemed well for “Los Azulcremas” even though high ticket prices and missing stars depressed attendance.

But the Bravos decided it was their job to ruin André Jardine’s debut as head man at América and they scored twice in the final 10 minutes of the match to steal a victory. (Is it too early to start those “Fuera Jardine” chants?)

Up in Mazatlán, Pachuca took on the host Cañoneros without its two midfield linchpins (Erick Sánchez and Luis Chávez, on Gold Cup duty) and a line-up littered with youngsters.

Much to the chagrin of an animated Guillermo Almada, the Tuzos failed to escape with 3 points against the team that finished last in the Liga MX standings last season.

Veteran defender Gustavo Cabral flubbed a late penalty kick that would have given Pachuca a 2-1 win so the points were split.

In Tijuana, Miguel Herrera and a revamped Xolos side coughed up a 2-1 lead and UNAM returns to Mexico City with 3 big road points.

A busy Saturday on tap

Opening Weekend continues with a Saturday triple-header featuring last season’s No. 1 seed (Monterrey), the reigning Liga MX champs (Tigres) and an emotional farewell game in Guadalajara.

The Rayados and new coach Fernando Ortiz visit Atlético de San Luis with one goal in mind: return to the top of the Liga MX heap but reach the finals this season. Ortiz skipped out on América after the Chivas eliminated the Aguilas and he quickly latched on in Monterrey where he has a loaded roster.

Back home in Nuevo León, that “other” Monterrey team – Tigres – will kick off their title defense against a modest Puebla team. Tigres is coming off last weekend’s win in the Liga MX Champions Cup but the holders will be without playoff hero Sebastián Córdova (sports hernia) and Diego Lainez (Gold Cup).

A bit further south, Atlas opens its campaign against a reconstructed Cruz Azul squad with a sense of gloom and doom. Reports suggest that star forward Julián Quiñones is on his way to América although he would still be permitted to suit up for the Zorros if the deal is not finalized.

Quiñones was a key component of the back-to-back titles earned by “Los Rojinegros” a few seasons back. Since Atlas is in a rebuilding stage, Quiñones expressed a desire to go to a contender and management has obliged.

JQ announced that he intends to play against Cruz Azul (the Cementeros are missing four players to national team duty – Uriel Antuna, Carlos Rodríguez at the Gold Cup; Rodrigo Huescas and Rafael Guerrero with the U-23) to pay tribute to the Zorros fans who have cheered him so heartily since he joined the club five seasons ago.

Liga MX scheduling anomalies

The final three season openers are spread across Sunday and Monday.

Necaxa visits Toluca at noon Sunday and Santos Laguna hosts Querétaro that evening, while the Guadalajara at León contest on Monday night brings down the curtain on Matchday 1.

Rather than spending time analyzing these and other early season games, it’s worth reminding Liga MX fans that the Apertura 2023 will take a one-month hiatus after Matchday 3.

The pause in the action is due to the all-new Liga MX-MLS Leagues Cup tournament. All 20 Mexican teams, 36 MLS teams and one Canadian team will participate in a World Cup-like format with the championship game scheduled for Aug. 19.

Liga MX play will resume thereafter – with more complete rosters, injuries notwithstanding.

dark. Next. Where might these Mexico stars play next season?

So for now, fans in Mexico will have to make do with matches that might occasionally look like pick-up games of street soccer.