By DAN KARELL
On May 26, Club America completed their thrilling comeback over Cruz Azul to win the Liga MX Clausura crown. Nearly two months later, the newly re-branded Liga Bancomer MX is ready to restart with the coming Apertura campaign.
Starting on Friday evening with the opening match between Queretaro and Monarcas, the 2013/2014 Liga MX season will be underway. While every team waved goodbye to familiar faces and welcomed in some new ones, none did more than Atlante, who finished the recent Clausura in last place.
The club based wonderfully in Cancun brought in no less than 17 players, a mixture of loan returnees, loans from other clubs, and new signings, such as former Boca Juniors midfielder Walter Erviti. They’ll make their season debut at Leon on Saturday.
12 months ago, Club Tijuana was just starting to realize their potential, achieving last season’s Apertura crown and making a deep run in this year’s Copa Libertadores. While they’ve re-loaded with the signing of Herculez Gomez, they’ll face a tough battle in their opener when they host Atlas, who finished third in last season’s Clausura.
This weekend’s opening matchups also see Clausura finalists Cruz Azul face Monterrey and Veracruz, back from the dead, returns to Liga MX to take on Chiapas, which was last year located in San Luis.
Here’s a rundown of the Week 1 Liga MX slate:
QUERETARO vs. MONARCAS (Friday, 8:30pm, ESPN2)
Despite being relegated last season, Queretaro are back thanks to the owners buying a new club and moving them to town. The former Chiapas de Jaguares have become Queretaro, and they’re looking to improve on last season’s disappointment.
Monarcas finished fourth last spring, and have brought in reinforcements like Edgar Andrade in midfield.
TIJUANA vs. ATLAS (Friday, 10:30pm, ESPN Deportes/ESPN3)
Tijuana’s Cinderella run may have surprised some teams last year, but they’ll have a target on their back this season. Xolos brought in USMNT member Herculez Gomez but with just a few days in training before and after his time at the Gold Cup, they’ll have a tough time against a strong Atlas side.
Omar Bravo leads the line for Atlas and they welcome back Antonio Briseño and Arturo Gonzalez to potentially make their names with the first team after a long period with the Mexico Under-20 squad.
CRUZ AZUL vs. MONTERREY (Saturday, 6pm, Univision Deportes)
Cruz Azul was leading 2-0 on aggregate over Club America in the 88th minute of last year’s Clausura second-leg match. Suddenly, two goals in four minutes and a defeat on penalty kicks left the Blue Cross on the outside looking in. They’ll be looking to get off to a fast start, to erase the bad memories for their fans.
Efrain Juarez and Dorlan Pabon are new recruits to Monterrey but the three time defending CONCACAF Champions League champions sold Aldo De Nigris, Walter Ayovi, and loaned Hector Morales to Atlante, which will be difficult to overcome.
VERACRUZ vs. CHIAPAS (Saturday, 8pm, Univision Deportes)
Veracruz returns to Liga MX after a five year absence, but will have to play the former San Luis club, turned Chapas, in their season opener. Panamanian National Team forward Luis Tejada has joined the club and will look to get the club on a great start to the new season.
Chiapas are also in rebuilding move, bringing in 14 players while letting go in transfers or loans 15 different players.
LEON vs. ATLANTE (Saturday, 9:05pm, Telemundo)
While Atlante made a whole host of changes, Leon kept their offseason transfer season short. After struggling at Wigan Athletic and on loan last season at Palermo, Mauro Boselli has joined Leon, as they look to overcome last season’s disappointment.
Atlante’s players don’t have a ton of time to gel, but if they can, there’s plenty of talent on the squad. Walter Erviti should step in at midfield, with Hector Morales and Alejandro Vela, brother of Carlos Vela, providing value in defense and on the wings, respectively.
PUEBLA vs. PUMAS UNAM (Sunday, 1pm, ESPN Deportes/ESPN3)
Puebla are missing their two Americans, DaMarcus Beasley and Michael Orozco, due to the Gold Cup, so they’ll have to find cover for the time being. Pumas had a nice season in last spring’s Clausura, and upgraded their strike core with Ariel Nahuelpan from Barcelona in Ecuador.
The Gold Cup also will cause some selection worry for Pumas, with Javier Cortes and Efrain Velarde in the Mexico squad.
TOLUCA vs. PACHUCA (Sunday, 1pm, Univision)
Toluca will head into their Apertura opener without starting goalkeeper Alfredo Talavera, as well as the returning Isaac Brizuela due to the Gold Cup. Pachuca meanwhile re-loaded this offseason with the signings of Duvier Riascos, Walter Ayovi, and Jorge Estrada.
They’ll have to find a replacement in central midfield however, as FC Porto have snapped up Hector Herrera this summer for a nice fee of €8 million.