Liga MX fans are stuck in “Hurry up and wait” mode.
The playoffs are all set after a drama-filled Matchday 17 this past weekend, but a FIFA break has put the calendar on hold for 10 days.
Atlético de San Luis, León, Santos Laguna and Mazatlán must wait until Nov. 22 to kick off the Play-In Tournament with the quarterfinals starting a week later.
The delay is a perfect opportunity for a quick look back at the Apertura 2023 while shining a light on the stars (and one goat … not GOAT).
Liga MX scoring leaders
Santos Laguna’s Harold Preciado is the Liga MX Golden Boot-winner after producing 11 goals for the Guerreros. His teammate Juan Brunetta led the league in assists with 11.
With that kind of production, you’d think Santos would have finished higher than 9th, but unfortunately the Guerreros had trouble stopping opponents from scoring. “Los Albiverdes” scored 31 goals while conceding 34.
11 – Harold Preciado (Santos Laguna)
9 – André-Pierre Gignac (Tigres), Carlos González (Tijuana); Angel Sepúlveda (Querétaro/Cruz Azul), Guillermo Martínez (Puebla)
7 – César Huerta (Pumas); Juan Brunetta (Santos Laguna)
Top assist men
11 – Juan Brunetta (Santos Laguna)
7 – Josue Colman (Mazatlán FC)
6 – Brayan Angulo (Puebla)
5 – Julián Quiñones (América)
Good things come in threes
Four players recorded hat tricks on the season, with three of them coming on the final two match days.
Ángel Sepúlveda (Cruz Azul, vs Necaxa)
Guillermo Martínez (Puebla, vs León)
José Zúñiga (Querétaro, vs. FC Juárez)
Erick Sánchez (Pachuca, vs Tijuana)
Off the field, Liga MX officials had a bad year.
On Matchday 7, Puebla blew out Tijuana 3-0 but a week later the Disciplinary Committee stripped the Camoteros of the victory and awarded the 3 points to the Xolos due to a roster registration error that was actually due to the league’s faulty software.
Puebla took the case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport which emphatically blamed Liga MX for the mistake and ordered the 3 points restored to Puebla. A black eye for the head honchos … but it wasn’t the only one.
Mazatlan FC included a player with 5 yellow cards on its game-day roster and nobody realized it. J.J. Esquivel was on the Cañoneros bench during their 3-1 victory over Guadalajara after which the Chivas filed a complaint asking for a forfeit.
A quick investigation showed that indeed Esquivel had 5 yellows to his account and he should have been ineligible. The league rejected the Guadalajara petition, admitting that it had screwed up.
Esquivel was traded to Mazatlán FC by Necaxa where he had picked up two yellow cards, then earned three more cautions while with the Cañoneros. League officials are expected to inform teams of player ineligibility but nobody had bothered to track Esquivel’s totals. More egg on faces at Liga MX HQ.
In early August, Monterrey traded long-time team captain Celso Ortiz to Pachuca. A month later, the Rayados repatriated Jesús “Tecatito” Corona – a Monterrey academy product – and handed him his familiar No. 16.
The problem was Ortiz had long worn No. 16 and teams are prohibited from allowing two different players to wear the same number during a single season.
Liga MX bylaws seem to suggest that such an infraction should result in a forfeit, but the Disciplinary Committee bent to Monterrey’s lobbying and only issues a stiff fine to the Rayados.
Pride goeth before the fall
Only a year ago, Alexis Vega was starring on Team Mexico at Qatar 2022. Twelve months later, Vega has experienced a dramatic fall from grace.
The 25-year-old opened the Apertura on injury row, sidelined for the first three games and ineffective upon his return. Vega saw action in seven of the next eight matches, starting just four of them and playing a full 90 minutes just once.
After seeing just 1 minute of action as a late-game substitute during Guadalajara’s Matchday 10 game at Toluca, Vega was among three players caught violating team rules (booze and women in the team hotel).
Along with Vega, Cristian Calderón and Raúl Martínez were immediately suspended. While Calderón and Martínez were reinstated after a couple weeks on ice, Vega – as a repeat offender – was kept away from the team for a month, added to the roster for the season finale.
With Liga MX playoff seeding at stake, Guadalajara paid a visit to UNAM with Vega on the bench. In minute 57, coach Veljko Paunovic summoned the winger and sent him on. Less than 20 minutes later, Vega stepped up to take a penalty that would have tied the game at 1. He missed.
A few days later, Universal Deportes reported that the Chivas have offered to trade Vega to Monterrey in exchange for midfielder Jordi Cortizo, confirming the rumors that started immediately upon discovery of his transgression – that Guadalajara was eager to get rid of the troublesome winger.
The Chivas will resume their season in two weeks when the Liga MX quarterfinals kick off. After contributing just 1 goal on the season, it will be interesting to see how much action Vega sees.