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Santos Laguna, Toluca linked by their owners

Liga MX
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 By Eric Gomez

Liga MX Apertura 2018 will be here soon: five big storylines

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.

MEXICO CITY -- The transfer season is in full swing across Liga MX. Even while Toluca and Santos Laguna were deciding the Clausura 2018 title last week, the other 16 teams left licking their wounds were gearing up to contend for the next semester.

Big signings have already flooded Twitter timelines, and a lot of movement is expected in the coming weeks, before and after the World Cup. Already, storylines are presenting themselves that will engage fans ahead of the Apertura 2018.

Here are the five biggest to follow as we move toward next season.

1. Will Cruz Azul's massive makeover pay off?

Ricardo Pelaez hit the ground running as the new director of football for Cruz Azul. Intending to prove his achievements at Club America were no fluke, Pelaez has already made a flurry of signings, including defenders Pablo Aguilar (Tijuana) and Igor Lichnovsky (Necaxa), midfielders Elias Hernandez (Leon) and Roberto Alvarado (Necaxa), and striker Milton Caraglio (Tijuana).

More are expected, including Arsenal de Sarandi's Ivan Marcone, and bigger names, such as Portuguese winger Nani, have been bandied about of late. The activity in recent days is designed to do one thing: end the team's 21-year championship drought.

Pelaez retained one of the better coaches in Liga MX, Pedro Caixinha, even after a bizarrely negative first season in command of the Mexico City giants. It's a move that could result in a very quick turnaround toward the top -- or one of the most massive failures in recent memory.

2. Last chance for Herrera at Club America

When he returned to the fold as Club America's manager in 2017, Miguel Herrera's not-so-secret desire to parlay a successful tenure at the club into a return to coaching the Mexican national team after the 2018 World Cup was clear.

To fulfill the self-appointed prophecy, Herrera would have to deliver results at Las Aguilas. But the time frame has revealed itself to be too rushed for the former Tijuana and Monterrey manager to reach his goal. In two seasons at Club America since his return, the team has failed to win in Liga MX, Copa MX and the CONCACAF Champions League.

In that same span, Chivas manager Matias Almeyda added to his Clausura 2017 Liga MX title win by conquering the CONCACAF Champions League and guiding Guadalajara to their first FIFA World Club Cup berth. The international tournament win also ended a 55-year drought for Chivas when it came to triumphs outside of Mexico.

Clearly, the comparison yields a clear front-runner: Almeyda is the favorite to take over El Tri in the second half of 2018, while Herrera faces a new dilemma: After a strong investment and multiple star signings, fans are becoming impatient with Herrera's second tenure. Failure to win silverware in the Apertura 2018 will likely yield a change at the head-coaching position.

3. Will Chivas rebound or rebuild?

Speaking of Almeyda and Chivas, there is a good chance the Apertura 2018 will become the swan song for the manager if he indeed takes over the reins of Mexico's national team ahead of the 2022 World Cup cycle. Though the team has been green-lit to sign players after a pay dispute with the present squad, Almeyda (or whoever replaces him if he leaves before or during the season) will have a tough job ahead to please fans after a pair of forgettable seasons in the league.

If a new manager is appointed, there will be some leeway and patience. Fans can also look forward to the FIFA Club World Cup. However, with ongoing legal struggles between owner Jorge Vergara and his ex-wife, Angelica Fuentes, the perception of Chivas as cash-strapped lingers, and no big signings are expected. With no incoming stars, (maybe) a new boss and a showcase tournament on the way, the upcoming semester has the potential to be especially challenging for Mexico's most popular team.

4. Monterrey clubs reload after tough Clausura

Big-spending Tigres and Monterrey were humbled early in the Clausura 2018 playoffs by teams not expected to compete for a title, let alone get past them in the quarterfinals of the liguilla. As it turns out, the estimation of at least one of those conquering teams, Santos Laguna, was quite a bit off.

The losses were surprising nonetheless and resulted in one of the Monterrey sides, the Rayados, making a change at the head-coaching position, firing Antonio Mohamed and hiring former Pachuca boss Diego Alonso. Tigres, on the other hand, stuck by longtime boss Ricardo Ferretti but it remains in limbo as to whether they will again try to shock the transfer market (hello, Sebastian Giovinco) or maintain the core roster with small tweaks.

Since 2010, Tigres and Monterrey have combined for five Liga MX titles, three CONCACAF Champions League wins, two Copa MX championships and two Campeón de Campeones trophies. Is the end of an era near?

5. Having no relegation will affect the level of play

In essence, Liga MX has eliminated relegation for three years. Lobos BUAP, the team that endured last season's drop, was bought back into the league after executives determined Cafetaleros, the team that had won the right to promotion, did not have the infrastructure necessary for first-division play.

Liberated by the burden of relegation until 2020, traditionally low-budget teams and squads in perennial trouble to go down -- such as Lobos, Veracruz and Puebla -- are free to build their rosters at their leisure. Should they choose to, teams now have permission to tank in the style of the NBA or NFL, albeit with no tangible benefit other than to save money. Without the threat of relegation, the fear of a diluted level of play is real. Conversely, the lack of consequences for failed experimentation could compel teams to spend big without any palpable penalties other than squandering transfer fees and paying high wages.

Eric Gomez is an editor for ESPN's One Nación. You can follow him on Twitter: @EricGomez86.

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