By Luis Bueno – RIVERSIDE, CA (Jan 3, 2018) US Soccer Players - Not too long ago, Monterrey and Tigres captivated Liga MX with a rousing Apertura 2017 final. In the blink of an eye, the league has gone through an offseason and a preseason. Now, teams are ready to try and make a run at the final once more.
When champions Tigres visit Puebla on Friday, it will kick off a four-month sprint. The regular season will conclude at the end of April with the season culminating in mid-May.
Liga MX will certainly feature dramatic moments as teams fight for a spot in the playoffs and against relegation. Being a World Cup year for Mexico, domestic players will also be trying to catch El Tri coach Juan Carlos Osorio’s eye for a possible spot on the World Cup roster.
The league though will also feature American players. Scattered across the league’s 18 clubs will be a handful of Americans, some of whom will play more prominent roles than others. Whether they come in as established starters or players trying to make an impact with a new club, Americans will all face challenges this season.
Here’s a look at some of the more prominent Americans who figure to maintain their spot in their team’s respective starting lineup or try and crack it and become regulars.
Omar Gonzalez - Pachuca: One of the most successful Americans in Mexico over the last several years, Gonzalez will be one of Pachuca’s key men in 2018. Gonzalez went the distance for Pachuca in two matches at the recent Club World Cup and in the Copa MX final against Monterrey on December 21. Pachuca needs Gonzalez to dominate the backline if los Tuzos are to return to the postseason. The club missed out on the postseason in each of the last two seasons.
Jonathan Bornstein - Queretaro: Bornstein had another solid season for los Gallos Blancos, playing in 13 matches. Queretaro did not do well during the season though, piling up a paltry 3-7-7 record. Queretaro enters the Clausura 2018 season in the penultimate spot on the relegation table, just above Veracruz. Queretaro needs a strong season to avoid the Liga de Ascenso. Bornstein will play his role from his usual left back spot.
William Yarbrough - Leon: A fixture on goal for Leon, Yarbrough will try to guide his team back into the postseason. Yarbrough was solid last season for Leon, who finished seventh in the table. Leon drew a tough Tigres side in the Liga MX quarterfinals. Although Tigres advanced and went on to win the final, Leon did not lose a match, settling for a pair of 1-1 draws as Yarbrough did what he could to push his side through.
Jonathan Gonzalez - Monterrey: A breakthrough player for Monterrey, Gonzalez was the most accomplished American in Liga MX last season. Not only did he appear in 20 matches for Monterrey but Gonzalez drew rave reviews for his play and was named to Liga MX’s Best XI. The California native will turn 19 during the season and should only continue to grow as he enters just his second season of action. He's not yet a USMNT player, but has represented the USMNT at youth level and has said he intends to see that through with the senior squad.
PUSHING FOR MORE TIME
Joe Corona - Club America: Corona made a prominent switch, leaving Tijuana for Club America on a yearlong loan. Corona had spent most of his career with Xolos but now is hoping to latch on with the storied Mexico City side. Corona had a strong Clausura 2017 season and split time between the starting lineup and the bench for the Apertura season, starting seven matches and coming off the bench four times. With America, Corona will be reunited with former Xolos boss Miguel Herrera, which could help him establish himself with las Aguilas.
Jorge Villafana - Santos Laguna: The ex-Portland Timbers man seemed to break through to Santos’ starting lineup in the middle of last season, starting five consecutive matches from Week 6 through Week 11 but saw time in just two matches afterward. One of those games though was the season finale against America, and that bit of inclusion could give him hope for more this season. After winning the Clausura 2015 season, Santos has missed the playoffs in three of the five seasons since. Villafana will try and help stabilize Santos and help the club reach the playoffs once more.
Michael Orozco - Tijuana: Orozco is a fixture with Tijuana but is hoping to become a fixture in the lineup. Entering his sixth season with Tijuana, Orozco featured just nine times for Xolos as he logged just five starts. Tijuana did well to get into the playoffs though. Orozco may be resigned to a similar role as last season, spot starts and duty off the bench as needed.
HOPING FOR MINUTES
Jose Torres - Tigres: Torres was part of Tigres’ championship side last season, but his role was quite limited. Torres played just twice for the club last season and logged a total of 72 minutes. After barely breaking a sweat a season ago, it seems difficult for the veteran player to log more meaningful minutes as Tigres try to defend their title.
Ventura Alvarado - Necaxa: Alvarado tried to make a go of it with Santos but played just once for the club last year. Now, he's hoping to catch on with Necaxa. It won't be easy. Necaxa had a stingy defense last season, allowing just 15 goals in 17 games. That was good for second-best in Liga MX. For Alvarado to break through on an already tough defensive side is not the best situation. Still, a fresh start was necessary after he failed to impress with Santos.
Rodrigo Lopez - Celaya: The former Chivas product and Chivas USA player, Lopez was part of the USMNT youth squads a decade ago. Lopez was sent back to Celaya and back to the Liga de Ascenso after his season with Toluca. While he played in nine matches for los Diablos Rojos, Lopez was deemed expendable and was unable to stick around in the top flight.
Luis Bueno is a veteran soccer writer. Follow him on twitter @BuenoSoccer.
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