Tigres Triumph: Tigres’ players, seen here celebrating their team’s league title after beating Santos de Torreon Dec. 11, begin their championship defense this weekend as the Mexican league begins anew (AP Photo).
If it isn’t enough that American soccer fans will experience the longest MLS season ever this year, while Galaxy fans are keeping tabs on the EPL (where Landon Donovan is plying his trade) and the Bundesliga (ditto Omar Gonzalez) U.S. players are increasingly making a breakthrough south of the border, too, (an out of shape Eddie Johnson aside, who is apparently incapable of playing for any team any where in the world these days).
The Mexican league cranks up again this weekend with relegation-threatened Tijuana (who trained in Oxnard during the preseason and are seeking to capture Southern California-based Mexican futbol fans’ hearts that just don’t flutter when it comes to Chivas USA) facing Morelia at 6 p.m. on KAZA.
To get you primed, here’s the Associated Press season preview:
MEXICO CITY (AP) — Tigres’ determination to defy the odds by winning back-to-back titles in the Mexico Clausura saw them sign Mexico international right winger Elias Hernandez.
Tigres last month won their first title in 29 years but aren’t sitting on their laurels.
The other front-runners in the Clausura should be the four traditional powers — Chivas, Pumas, Cruz Azul and America — with Morelia, Monterrey and Santos Laguna there or thereabouts.
Unlike many other foreign leagues, the Mexican first division is unpredictable: Eight different teams have won the last 11 championships and no team has won consecutive titles since Pumas in 2004.
At the other end, Atlas, Estudiantes Tecos and Club Tijuana are set for a relegation battle that will see one team drop to the second division when the regular season ends in late April.
The season kicks off on Friday with Morelia against Club Tijuana, with the other first-round games set for Saturday and Sunday.
Tigres have kept together a stingy defense, and have added Hernandez as they also prepare to play in Latin America’s biggest club tournament — the Copa Libertadores.
Tigres Passion: Fans will be hoping the club can repeat their title triumph.
“I think defending the title adds an extra ingredient,” Tigres’ Argentine captain Lucas Lobos said. “Becoming champions again would be something beautiful.”
Tigres have lost only attacking midfielder Danilinho, who has been loaned to Atletico Mineiro in his native Brazil.
“The challenge will be to maintain what the team showed last season,” added Tigres midfielder Carlos Salcido, who signed five months ago from English Premier League club Fulham.
Tigres’ city rival Monterrey signed the top scorer from the Clausura 2011, Angel Reyna, who was unwanted at America. Reyna made critical comments several months ago about America defender Aquivaldo Mosquera, and was subsequently dropped from the first team.
“They were off-the-pitch things that are now in the past,” Reyna said. “I’m totally determined and motivated for the current season and already thinking about the first game.”
Reyna’s former club America — one of the most popular in Mexico — has undergone a major overhaul including a new coach in Miguel Herrera, who moved from Atlante.
Herrera has signed Venezuelan defender Oswaldo Vizcarrondo, as well as goalkeeper Moises Munoz, forward Christian Bermudez and midfielder Jose Maria Cardenas, as America seeks to improve on its poor 17th-place finish in the Apertura.
Like most Latin American countries, Mexico divides its season into two parts: Apertura (Opening) and Clausura (Closing).
America’s big rival, CD Guadalajara, was quiet in the transfer market and is set to
challenge for its 12th title, again relying on players from the club’s youth academy. Chivas fields only Mexican players.
Clausura 2011 champion Pumas will also go with youth. The Mexico City side has not made new signings, and has lost experienced forward Francisco Palencia, who retired at the end of last season.
Santos, runners-up last season, have opted for continuity after reaching three of the last four finals. The only addition is American international striker Herculez Gomez from Estudiantes Tecos.
Cruz Azul has not managed to lift the league trophy since 1997, despite regularly getting close. The club has signed experienced striker Omar Bravo, who was playing for Sporting Kansas City in MLS.
Morelia hope to be stronger with the signings of defender Oscar Razo and defensive midfielder Christian Valdez.
Relegation in Mexico is based on results across three years with one team being relegated every year. Tijuana, Atlas and Estudiantes Tecos are tightly bunched at the foot of the relegation table and have added to their squads hoping to avoid the drop.
Tijuana has signed Colombian Duvier Riascos, American Edgar Castillo and Jose Alfredo Gonzalez, while Atlas has brought in seven new players, including Venezuela international Giancarlo Maldonado from Atlante.
Financially strapped Estudiantes Tecos have brought in five new players, but lost Gomez and Argentine Jorge Zamogilny, who moved to relegation rivals Atlas.
Jaguares, San Luis, Pachuca, Toluca, Atlante, Queretaro and Puebla all have an outside chance at the title, but aren’t considered contenders.
On Saturday it’s Queretaro vs. Club America (2:55 p.m. Telefutura), Cruz Azul vs. Tigres (3 p.m. KAZA), Monterrey vs. Jaguares (2:55 p.m. Galavision), Chivas vs. Atlante, Santos vs. Pachuca (4:55 p.m. Telefutura), San Luis vs. Pumas (6:30 p.m. Galavision). On Sunday: Puebla vs. Atlas (10 a.m. KAZA), Toluca vs Estudiantes (9:55 a.m. Univision).