Mexico's Clausura, the second-half championship, kicks off in the Primera Division on Friday night, with Club Tijuana visiting Morelia.
The Xolos went unbeaten in their last eight games in the fall Clausura and hope that prods them up the table in the spring tournament -- they're looking to survive, since one club will be relegated to the second-tier Liga de Ascenso come May.
Here are seven things to follow in Mexico this spring:
UANL Tigres won the Apertura, the suburban Monterrey club's first top-tier title in 29 years. Now the aim is to become the first club to win back-to-back Primera titles since Pumas UNAM in 2004. “I think defending the title adds an extra ingredient,” Tigres captain Lucas Lobos told The Associated Press this week. “Becoming champions again would be something beautiful.” Their chief rivals should be Pumas, the 2011 Clausura champ, plus Apertura regular-season No. 1 Guadalajara, perennial contender Cruz Azul, Apertura runner-up Morelia, Santos Laguna and maybe America.
Tigres has a deep pool of American talent bubbling under the first team, and we might see 20-year-old Texan Victor Garza, a winger, make his top-tier debut. Oxnard-bred cousins Moises and Emilio Orozco also have trained with the first team. What about Jonathan Bornstein? The former Chivas USA captain from Los Alamitos did not make it to the field with the first team in the Apertura, and he doesn't appear to rate highly in manager Ricardo Ferretti's plans.
The sort-of local team, Club Tijuana, is battling for survival, and prospects look good. Coach Antonio Mohamed has continued building his roster, adding Colombian forward Duvier Riascos from Puebla, defender Alfredo Gonzalez Tahuilan on loan from Tigres and two Americans: outside backs Edgar Castillo (from America) and Greg Garza. Their chief opposition in the battle to avoid relegation to the Liga de Ascenso is Estudiantes Tecos and Atlas, which appear to be in panic mode. Both made nearly complete turnovers of their rosters.
Former Galaxy star Herculez Gomez, who finished so strongly in the Apertura with Tecos, has moved on to Santos Laguna, a definite step forward. If he can score in Torreon, a U.S. national team call-up has to follow. Right? Also on the move: midfielder Isaac Acuña, from Calexico, whom America has loaned to second-tier Merida. Eddie Johnson, after a difficult time in Europe, nearly joined DaMarcus Beasley at Puebla, but the Camoteros declined after he failed to impress during their preseason camp.
Cruz Azul, master of the postseason meltdown, seeks its elusive ninth title -- what would be the first in 15 years and second since 1980 -- after another quarterfinal exit after a second-place finish during the Apertura. The addition of veteran striker Omar Bravo, in a move from Major League Soccer's Sporting Kansas City, will be helpful, but a difficult Copa Libertadores slate won't. The Cementeros have made the playoffs 12 times in 14 campaigns over the past seven years, finishing in the top five 11 times and the top three on seven occasions. They've lost in three finals (Clausura 2008 vs. Santos, Apertura 2008 vs. Toluca and Apertura 2009 vs. Monterrey) but gone out five times in the quarters, including both times (Apertura 2006 and Apertura 2010) they won the regular season.
America cleaned house after a 17th-place finish in the Clausura, bringing on former Atlante/Monterrey/Veracruz/Tecos manager Miguel Herrera and bolstering its lineup with the additions of goalkeeper Moises Muñoz, Venezuelan defender Oswaldo Vizcarrando and playmaker Christian “Hobbit” Bermudez. Archrival Guadalajara holds firm with its mostly academy-built roster.
Monterrey looks to bounce back from a poor second half to 2010 by claiming a second straight CONCACAF Champions League title and contend for the Clausura championship. The injury-riddle Rayados missed the Apertura playoffs, going 7-7-3 to finish 11th, and were upset in their opener at last month's FIFA Club World Cup.