By Luis Bueno – RIVERSIDE, CA (Mar 9, 2022) US Soccer Players – Major League Soccer and Liga MX have had an odd relationship for many years. Sometimes it has been insubstantial. Other times rather symbiotic. The two have competed directly against one another in various tournaments and matches. All of that has kept the debate going over which is the better league. After recent events, it seems that the path toward a clear answer to that might be set in the most unfortunate way.
Fan violence marred the Queretaro vs Atlas match on Saturday. According to reports, as many as 26 fans suffered injuries, with at least three in critical condition. Unconfirmed reports on social media indicated that there had been fatalities, but no official report has validated those claims.
Still, what is undeniable was the astonishing level of violence that played out at Queretaro’s Estadio Corregidora. Fans were injured, and families threatened. Players, coaches, and officials were put in the middle of it.
While soccer takes a back seat when something this barbaric happens, this violence could have long-lasting negative repercussions for Liga MX. It seems as if this situation could create a watershed moment. The time in Liga MX before the Queretaro fan riot and the time after.
In this post-Queretaro world, Liga MX has no choice but to address some very disturbing facts about its league and its game. Sitting at the top of any fair comparison of leagues in the region, Liga MX does more in terms of salaries, quality of play, and competitiveness. In Concacaf, there is no question Liga MX is the superior league. By how much over MLS is the only sticking point. Liga MX has always been a big draw not just for Mexican internationals or budding national team prospects who have long chosen to stay at home rather than test the European waters but for high-quality South American players.
MLS had made inroads though on player acquisition, namely Mexican internationals out of favor with European clubs. The most recent example is Hector Herrera, who will join Houston this summer from La Liga side Atletico Madrid. Other Mexican internationals like Carlos Vela and Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez opted for MLS instead of exploring Liga MX options. And some of those players went to Liga MX after MLS, notably Giovani and Jonathan Dos Santos, who went from the LA Galaxy to Club America at different times over the last several seasons.
MLS should still provide a safe landing spot for players like Chucky Lozano, Edson Alvarez, Raul Jimenez, and other in-their-prime Mexican internationals. In fact, with the chaos that erupted in Mexico, that should strengthen the case MLS clubs can offer to incoming Mexican internationals.
Contracts and finances are important to players but so too is security and safety. Liga MX took some action in punishing or attempting to punish responsible parties in the aftermath of the Queretaro situation. Among the sanctions, Liga MX suspended four club officials for five years and is forcing the ownership group to sell the club. Queretaro will play behind closed doors for a year. Their supporter’s group will serve a three-year ban. Atlas’s supporter’s group can’t attend any match for six months.
Other Liga MX clubs are in the process of taking action. The governor of Nuevo Leon state – home to Monterrey and Tigres – may ban alcohol sales at games. Chivas and America are urging fans to wear white to Guadalajara’s Estadio Akron as a show of solidarity. Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador urged club owners to act more responsibly for the safety and welfare of supporters.
Still, the violence that happened in Queretaro could continue to haunt the league no matter what measures are put in place to punish those involved. Every game moving forward is now a test on whether the sanctions are working. That includes the games this weekend. That the league is resuming the schedule is questionable, but supporters must show that they can be responsible as part of a safe environment. Another test will be on March 24 when the USMNT visits Estadio Azteca for a World Cup qualifier. The focus now heightens, and any hint of problems will not bode well for Mexican soccer.
Mexican soccer officials have already seen Concacaf and FIFA issue statements publicly, letting them know how much attention the governing bodies are paying. After all, Mexico will host ten games in the 2026 World Cup. Concacaf has already put extreme pressure on Mexico to stop the homophobic chanting at their games, including playing qualifiers behind closed doors.
Then there are those comparisons to Major League Soccer. Normally, the only thing that flatters MLS is their control of economics. Now, it also includes fan safety.
MLS has its issues, certainly, but ensuring a safe atmosphere is not one of them. MLS is already an attractive league for some players who might have otherwise joined Liga MX. After Queretaro, more players could choose MLS at Liga MX’s expense simply because it’s safer. That could be what tilts the balance of power to MLS away from Liga MX after the unthinkable events at Queretaro.
Luis Bueno is a veteran soccer writer. Follow him on twitter @BuenoSoccer.
More From Luis Bueno:
- MLS Power Rankings: Starting with NYCFC
- The Galaxy and LAFC in a city now used to champions
- The Western Conference in the Concacaf Champions League
- Is another championship or bust season approaching for the LA Galaxy?
Logo courtesy of Liga MX