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 By Tom Marshall

Liga MX doing what it can to help in wake of devastating Mexico quake

GUADALAJARA, Mexico -- The buzz around Mexico's Clasico Nacional usually begins days ahead of the actual game. Club America and Chivas fans, players and coaches all ratchet up the intensity. The domestic media laps it up.

The Clasico Nacional is the showcase event for Liga MX each season, by far its biggest game in terms of TV ratings, importance and resonance across the country.

Around 80,000 fans were expected for Saturday's match between the two in Estadio Azteca in Mexico City. The game was to pit Miguel Herrera's resurgent and re-energized Club America against struggling reigning champion Chivas.

But after the tragic 7.1 magnitude earthquake on Tuesday in central Mexico, which killed over 200 people, football has taken a back seat.

"Now is the time to help," was the message from Liga MX on Wednesday in the announcement that all matches this weekend -- including the Clasico Nacional -- would be postponed.

It was the right decision.

Though some perceive a growing divide between fans and those who actually play the game in Mexico's first division, in terms of its effect this week, no one can doubt the positive influence of Mexican football. It might only have been a granito de arena -- literally "little grain of sand" -- but the solidarity, support and organization from both institutions and individuals went above and beyond.

The buildup to the Clasico Nacional and one of the most important weekends of football on the calendar has been transformed into a huge collective effort to support those affected by the earthquake.

Over at Estadio Chivas, a collection point for essential items to be taken over to central Mexico was established, with players showing up. Chivas club legends also set up a collection center.

On the other side of town, outside Estadio Jalisco on Wednesday, members of Atlas' Barra 51 were coordinating a collection point for essential items to be taken to the affected zone. The supporters group has one of the fiercest reputations in the Mexican game, but welcomed rival Chivas fans.

Mexican clubs opened their doors and facilities to those who wanted to donate. And they did so spontaneously, without being prodded.

Club America owner Televisa actually announced the postponement of the Clasico Nacional before Liga MX, explaining that it didn't want to divert security and general logistical resources away from the rescue effort. Its players and coaching staff will be volunteering along with thousands of others over the coming days.

Las Aguilas suffered the tragedy firsthand. One of the more than 200 deaths caused by the earthquake was Raul Alexis Vargas Macias, a youngster born in 2009 who played at Club America's academy. He was reportedly a student at the Enrique Rebsamen school, in which at least 37 people died, mainly children.

"You'll always fly with us and be in our hearts," read a statement from the club.

First-team players -- and products of Club America's youth academy -- Edson Alvarez and Alejandro Diaz set up a stall from 8 a.m. to receive donations from the public.

"Today shirt colors and titles don't exist," Diaz said. "Today we are all Mexicans and we should all pitch in to help."

It wasn't just Mexicans helping out. Cruz Azul coach Paco Jemez, a native of Spain, joined a support brigade and has been volunteering at a collection point at Plaza de Toros in Mexico City.

"Mexican people's solidarity and union is amazing; their ability to unite," Jemez was reported as saying Wednesday. The former Rayo Vallecano coach also said he'd continue unloading trucks into the night.

Cruz Azul also pitched in, with the club's parent company lending heavy machinery to help lift rubble in the continued search for survivors.

Pachuca defender and U.S. international Omar Gonzalez was in the street guiding people into the club's stadium collection center, while Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez, Miguel Layun and Andres Guardado have all been part of online fundraising campaigns to aid relief efforts.

Cristiano Ronaldo, Floyd Mayweather, Lewis Hamilton and Neymar are just some of the world-famous names from outside the country to show solidarity in Mexico's time of need. In Spain, Villarreal contacted Liga MX club Tigres to propose a friendly to raise funds.

Mexican football takes a lot of criticism, and often rightly so, but in the wake of the devastating earthquake, the response could hardly have been more reinvigorating and heartwarming. We might not have a Clasico Nacional this weekend, but Mexican football has done itself proud in its efforts to help what has been a horrible situation.

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


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