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Aug 12, 2013

Veracruz sit at the top, while Pumas hit bottom

Now that the fifth week of the Apertura 2013 schedule has concluded, the pretenders are starting to shake out and the contenders are emerging. This has taken a bit longer than usual, partly because the season began while many top Liga MX players were involved in the CONCACAF Gold Cup. Not only were certain squads missing their best performers, but also those players, upon returning, needed some time to adjust to their club squads again.

The surprise of the Apertura season thus far is clearly Veracruz, reincarnated from La Piedad and leading the table with 11 points. Los Tiburones Rojos didn't look that impressive in their latest match, however, since their attack was toothless against Puebla, ending in a 0-0 draw. It may be that now that other clubs are back to full strength and know not to take Veracruz lightly, points will be much harder to come by.

Another surprise, but a very negative one for their fans, is the sorry record of UNAM Pumas thus far. The team has gained only two points from five games played. Players failed again to score as they lost to the Xolos of Tijuana this past weekend. The Pumas' winless streak has claimed victims already, since El Tri legend Alberto Garcia Aspe, who was serving as the club’s vice president of sport, and Director of Sport Roberto Medina have been dismissed from the team's administrative ranks.

Defending champion Club America is lurking near the top of the table despite coping with the emotional blow from the loss of former star Christian Benitez. The club is undefeated, but then again, due to rescheduling, has played only three games in the season. Still, coach Miguel Herrera looks to have picked up right where he left off, as the high-scoring Aguilas pasted four goals onto hapless Atlante.

The bad news for Tigres, who went undefeated for so long last season, is that they lost quickly in this Apertura season. But perhaps the club is learning to focus more on games that matter. Despite coming out badly in the fierce rivalry matches with Monterrey of late, Tigres turned that trend around with an emphatic 3-1 victory over their most bitter foes.

Cruz Azul, meanwhile, hasn’t mired itself in another slow start to the season, but the club hasn’t come out on fire, either. The club’s veteran players looked completely in control, however, in their 3-1 victory over Chivas. Perhaps extra confident given his recent call-up to the Mexican national team, Christian "Chaco" Gimenez led the attack, dishing a perfect pass for the opening goal.

For their part, Guadalajara continue to struggle, with only a single win over lowly Atlante thus far on the season. Owner Jorge Vergara may have to take drastic action soon, especially given recent reports over team "indiscipline."

The battle of the pretenders - or, more correctly, the match between the former Chiapas Club, now Queretaro, and the former San Luis F.C., now Chiapas F.C. - was perhaps destined to be a draw. Chiapas F.C. salvaged the draw by scoring late, but a tie score has become the club's specialty. The team has knotted up opponents in four out of its five matches.

Unable to showcase any goals, Morelia and Leon played out a scoreless draw. Leon's nine points in the table thus far are more of a surprise than Morelia's 10, but early-season momentum is a fickle thing that easily fades.

Last season, though, an early good start translated into a nice season for Atlas. The club didn't win against Pachuca on the weekend, but a stinging strike from Vincente Matias Vuoso in the 93rd minute earned Atlas a late share of the points in the 1-1 draw.

In similar dramatic fashion, Edy German Brambila scored for Toluca in the final minutes versus Santos Laguna in a 2-2 shootout. Brambila's goal nullified what had appeared to be the game winner by Laguneros striker Oribe Peralta, who looks back on form after injury struggles.

As is said in England, it's still early days in the Apertura season, and thus, the points table can deceive, driving some fans to despair or delight far too quickly. But while no team wins the season after the first five rounds, it is possible to lose a club's playoff potential by becoming too lax about lost points. The next games will show more which organizations realize this and act accordingly.