The soccer news starts with the return of Liga MX on Friday and the start of the 2020 Clausura. The Apertura didn’t end until late last month due to Monterrey’s Club World Cup commitments, and the reigning Liga MX champions are the likeliest choice to repeat. Not at all surprising is that the team they beat on penalties on December 29 is right there with them. Club America is always the team to beat in Mexico, even if it is worth the reminder that both Monterrey and America barely made the playoffs last season.
It was Santos Laguna entering the playoffs as the top seed with a four-point lead over Club Leon. Club America was one of three teams to finish on 31 points and last among that group. Monterrey took the 8th and final playoff spot with 27, tied on points with Morelia but behind them on goal difference. In the Liguilla, it was Club America knocking out 3rd-seed Tigres and Morelia doing them a favor in the other half of their side of the bracket by beating 2nd-seed Leon. It was a similar situation for Monterrey, knocking out Santos and playing Necaxa instead of Queretaro in the semifinals.
Who was really the best team throughout the 2019 Apertura remains an open question. Monterrey has the trophy after a finals series where both teams put up 2-1 results in regulation. Recency bias is part of the preference for the unlikely Apertura finalists. How badly Santos lost to Monterrey in their quarterfinal series certainly doesn’t help playing up the regular season. Still, in a playoffs that favored the underdog and almost underdog, it’s worth asking how much the regular season should count. That, and the tendency for form not to carry across seasons in Liga MX.
Pachuca, Tijuana, Toluca, Necaxa, and San Luis all have new coaches. 5th-place Necaxa is the surprise in that group, the only one of them to make the playoffs. Veracruz is no longer a member of the league, meaning no easy points in the Clausura at the expense of a club that won once and was bottom of the table from the third week of the season through its conclusion. MLS went shopping in Liga MX, signing a selection of players that would otherwise be making a difference in Mexico.
During the 2018-19 Liga MX seasons, Club America finished 2nd in the Apertura and won the title over 1st-place finisher Cruz Azul. In the Clausura, Cruz Azul finished 4th and America 5th with America knocking cruz Azul out in the quarterfinals. Club America lost in the next round to 1st-place Leon, who then lost the final to 2nd-place Tigres. Leon had finished 14th in the Apertura, an unnecessary example of how different the Fall and Spring seasons can be in Liga MX. It’s also something worth considering when penciling in the Apertura finalists as the clear favorites when the Clausura starts.
Also in the soccer news, USL Championship club Memphis 901 announced that Tim Howard is their new sporting director. “As a minority owner it’s nice to sit up there in a suite,” Howard said in a press statement. “But by the nature of who I am, my competitive spirit, the goalkeeper in me, this role has given me an excitement that mimics playing.”
SI.com’s Luis Miguel Echegary interviews NYCFC and USMNT player Keaton Parks. The Chicago Sun-Times’ Brian Sandalow talks to Chicago Fire investor/operator Joe Mansueto about the club’s revamped logo. The Athletic’s Sam Stejskal reports on MLS altering how teams sign Designated Players. ESPN’s Tom Marshall looks at Chivas as a contender in the 2020 Clausura.
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