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Santos Laguna, Toluca linked by their owners

Liga MX
Read
 By Tom Marshall

Santos and Djaniny sum up the best of Liga MX Clausura, as Landon Donovan disappoints

ESPN FC's Tom Marshall catches up with Jorge Villafana, who helped Santos win the Liga MX title two days after being robbed at gunpoint.

The 2018 Clausura finished with Santos Laguna picking up their sixth title, ending Toluca's chances of capping a near-perfect regular season with a trophy.

It was an unexpected title, but nonetheless a deserved one given the way Los Guerreros slew Tigres, America and Toluca throughout the playoffs to lift it. But with preparations for the Apertura already underway at some clubs and attention shifting to the World Cup, here is a look at the Liga MX end-of-season Clausura awards:

Best player: Djaniny Tavares, Santos Laguna

It is easy to reel off the fact Santos Laguna's Cape Verde international netted 16 goals in 20 games and use that to justify Djaniny being the best player in the Clausura. His goals were clearly vital to Los Guerreros finishing fourth in the regular season.

While strike partner Julio Furch took the headlines in the playoffs with four goals, Djaniny still managed to score two vital markers and somehow recovered from a shoulder injury in the second leg of the quarterfinal against Tigres to help devastate Club America in the first leg of the semifinals.

Djaniny's pace and unconventional movement provided Santos Laguna with an outlet up front all season. That was especially noticeable in the second leg of the final, when the 27-year-old was the counterattacking dynamo to give the Santos defense relief from Toluca's almost constant pressure.

Breakout player: Roberto Alvarado, Necaxa

The Clausura wasn't Alvarado's debut season in Liga MX, but it was his first as a regular starter, and the 19-year-old showed exactly why there has been a lot of hype around his ability in the past few years.

Alvarado debuted in the second division just 21 days after turning 15, and the fact he has more than 60 first-team starts in the first and second division is evident in the maturity of his game.

The Guanajuato native is a left-footed right-winger who is solid at crossing on either side, has a good turn of pace and dribbling ability. Only Pachuca's Keisuke Honda and Leon's Luis Montes managed more than his six assists in the regular season.

The bad news for Necaxa fans hoping to see him develop further next season is that Cruz Azul has already swooped in to sign him for the Apertura.

A mention should also be made for Bolivian midfielder Alejandro Chumacero, who came in almost unnoticed at Puebla and made a significant impact on an unfashionable side.

Best manager: Robert Siboldi, Santos Laguna

The Uruguayan rookie managed to guide his Santos team to a quarterfinal win over reigning champions Tigres, a semifinal victory over Club America and then lifted the title against Toluca. At each stage, Santos were the underdogs.

Djaniny's strike in the 71st minute brought Santos Laguna level and eased some worries.
No one was better than Djaniny this Clausura, and he has the title to prove it.

Siboldi deserves this accolade for Santos Laguna's much-improved regular season, the sensational spirit shown in the comeback in the quarterfinal second leg against Tigres and through the Liguilla, as well his adaptability and pragmatic use of Furch and Djaniny as target strikers when required.

The 52-year-old won a title in his 33rd game managing in Mexico's first division, which is a remarkable feat.

Morelia's Roberto Hernandez also deserves a lot of credit. His unfancied Monarcas reached a third consecutive playoff and only went out in the quarterfinal against regular-season leader Toluca due to its worse finishing position.

Best signing: Jose Juan "Gallito" Vazquez, Santos Laguna

One year ago, Vazquez was celebrating winning the Liga MX Clausura title with Chivas. Now he's doing the same with Santos Laguna. Just why Chivas let go such a solid and consistent performer last winter is a question fans are still struggling to come to terms with.

For Santos Laguna, Vazquez was the missing piece of the jigsaw. He brought real intensity and work rate to the midfield and hardly ever gave the ball away. The balance he provided was absolutely key to Santos Laguna winning their sixth title.

Biggest surprise: Tigres' quarterfinal loss to Santos

Tigres' players should still be wondering how it all went wrong this Clausura, but really they only have themselves to blame after blowing a 2-0 lead from the first leg of the quarterfinal. Santos deserve credit for leveling the aggregate scores with 10 players, although Tigres were woeful in defending their title.

"The opponent played with heart and we never had it," was Tigres coach Ricardo Ferretti's assessment afterwards.

It spoke to a lethargy at Tigres and it's something we saw in the regular season, too. Tigres failed to win in their last four regular season games, which saw them slip to fifth and eventually go out to Santos based on their finishing position in the regular season.

For a team with the quality Tigres possess, it was a poor season.

Biggest flop: Chivas and Landon Donovan

This category is a split decision. Chivas finishing 17th in the regular season just 12 months after lifting the Liga MX title represents a spectacular fall. The wheels came off with players protesting a lack of bonus payments and coach Matias Almeyda demanding reinforcements for next season, which is unlikely given the institution is undergoing a period of "financial consolidation". The CONCACAF Champions League title was huge, but the club's disappointing Liga MX season can't be ignored.

But there was also Landon Donovan at Leon. The 36-year-old came out of retirement to join La Fiera in January, with much anticipation from fans both sides of the border.

How would a player that had for so long been Mexico's nemesis fare in Liga MX? We are still waiting to find out. Donovan only saw the field for 111 minutes in league play and couldn't make much of an impact.

Tom Marshall covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MexicoWorldCup.

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