Chivas or Club America: Which team will win record 13th Liga MX title first?
MEXICO CITY -- The race for La Trece is on. Mexico's two biggest clubs are tied at the top with 12 league titles each, with Chivas responding to Club America's recent dominance by winning the 2017 Clausura title last May.
Uncontested at the top for much of Liga MX's history, Chivas bitterly observed their fiercest rival creep up and later rise above them in the past decade. Prior to 1980, in fact, Chivas had won eight titles to Club America's three. Since then, the Mexico City giants have flipped the script, winning nine championships compared to just four for their rivals from Guadalajara. Chivas' most recent win, and their newfound commitment to spending big on top Mexican players so they can "own" the league, has revived the debate about which team is the competition's biggest.
"Things have changed now. America [is less inclined] to spend, and Chivas is doing just that," said Herculez Gomez, a former Liga MX scoring champion and analyst for ESPN FC. Although Club America has more recent success than Chivas -- they've won twice in four years while Guadalajara won their first title since 2006 -- developments in the short-term suggest that the two will be neck-and-neck for the foreseeable future.
"America was a couple of minutes away from their 13th [title] seven months ago," said Jose Antonio Noriega, a former Mexican national team player and analyst for ESPN. "But that's a good question. Both teams have an argument moving forward."
Noriega is referring to Club America's Christmas-time final last year, in which a late Jesus Duenas header forced penalty kicks for Tigres, who won the title. Faced with the possibility of winning back-to-back league trophies last spring, the Monterrey side was unable to best Chivas. With the new league season beckoning, which team is in better position to add to its trophy case?
Club America flaunts the return of former coach Miguel Herrera to the fold this season, the man largely responsible for their 2013 win. However, a need to sign players with attacking capabilities has not yet been addressed, which means that Herrera's characteristic flashy play might not be as apparent right away. Conversely, if America can coax effective seasons out of under-performing players such as Darwin Quintero, Silvio Romero or the oft-injured Cecilio Dominguez, America could shift from a team in the midst of rebuilding to a title contender quite rapidly, a vision the coach agrees with.
"The obligation is to win titles. We need to keep working and getting better as a group," Herrera told the media in Carson, California, last weekend. Armed with a core of growing young players, including defenders Cesar Vargas and Edson Alvarez and 17-year-old phenom Diego Lainez in midfield, much will depend on whether these youngsters can provide significant contributions should no new signings arrive late in the summer transfer window.
Chivas, on the other hand, eschewed new signings during the summer break, banking on continuity as their biggest weapon toward a potential back-to-back championship run. The vision, laudable as it can be in a league riddled with inconsistency, could potentially backfire on the Goats, given their lack of genuine roster depth.
Due to the fact that they do not sign non-Mexican players, Chivas has historically been a valued source of talent for El Tri. This summer, Mexico was tasked with two separate international tournaments and thus, two separate squads. The Guadalajara team was asked to give up two players for the FIFA Confederations Cup and six more for the CONCACAF Gold Cup. Worse still, one of the players released for the latter tournament, Alan Pulido, suffered a fracture in his right arm that will keep him out of circulation for the next four months.
"This is going to be a challenging semester for us," admitted Chivas coach Matias Almeyda shortly after Pulido's injury. "There are no excuses, though."
To counter, Chivas has promoted 10 youth players to the senior squad for preseason matches, hoping that a few will be ready to make the jump toward first-team football and supply relief for both the fatigued and the wounded.
Other squads around the league, such as Tigres, have made strong investments in their efforts to conquer the championship. Japan international Keisuke Honda has joined Pachuca and CF Monterrey signed Aviles Hurtado, one of the most consistent strikers in the league, to a long-term contract.
"I don't think either [America or Chivas] is prepared [to win in] the upcoming season," said Hector Hernandez, Club America's official historian. "Both teams need signings, and I don't think Chivas is going to do that. America might, but they have a long way to go."
It would seem that, for this season at least, the deck is stacked against both of Mexico's most successful and popular teams. However, in a league in which parity and the unpredictable routinely dominate, anything is possible.
Eric Gomez is an editor for ESPN's One Nación. You can follow him on Twitter: @EricGomez86.