It was only a matter of time before Club America moved to first place in the Liga MX table. Building up momentum with seven consecutive wins, Las Aguilas sprinted to the top of the standings after Week 12, albeit with some controversy regarding Mexican-American dual-national Alejandro Zendejas that has overshadowed it all.
A scoreless draw pushed Monterrey down to second in the table, and just one point behind them, Pachuca have been making waves in recent weeks thanks to the form of striker Nicolas Ibañez and new signing Javier "Chofis" Lopez.
Looking further down the standings, Cruz Azul "Cruz Azuled" their way to a disappointing draw, while Pumas and Dani Alves once again failed to clinch a victory. There was also a midweek international friendly, some questionable officiating for Chivas, and a viral moment involving Jozy Altidore sipping what appeared to be a terrible-tasting sports drink.
There's plenty to cover, so in case you missed anything, here are three talking points and some additional observations from Jornada 12 of the 2022 Apertura.
- Liga MX standings | Liga MX coverage on ESPN Deportes
- Futbol Americas on ESPN+: MLS, Liga MX, USMNT, El Tri
Amid national team switch drama, Zendejas leads Club America to first place
At the moment, the most talked about player in Liga MX isn't a national team star or a high-profile addition from overseas. Instead, it's Mexican-American dual-national Alejandro Zendejas.
After the Club America midfielder was surprisingly left out of a call-up for Mexico last month, rumors began to swirl about possible eligibility issues. By Aug. 26, FIFA told ESPN MX that they were investigating the status of the player who had reportedly yet to file a one-time switch to Mexico from the United States. Days later on Aug. 31, Mexico manager Gerardo "Tata" Martino told TUDN that Zendejas "didn't want to sign" the document, saying "it's almost an extortion" for the player to pressure him for World Cup roster selection first.
Club America manager Fernando Ortiz cautioned against Martino's comments last Friday, noting that coaches should "be careful with your words and how you use them," and by Saturday, Zendejas responded in his own way with a Man Of The Match-caliber performance in a dramatic 2-1 win over Tigres that propelled Las Aguilas into first place. Although he was lucky to not earn a red for a risky foul that was reviewed by VAR, the 24-year-old FC Dallas academy product was brilliant, creating an assist and forcing an own-goal from Tigres in the marquee game of the weekend.
It remains up in the air what FIFA will find regarding his eligibility and whether Martino will call him back to the national team, or possibly if the U.S. gives him an opportunity, but there's no denying that he has been one of the best Liga MX players of the season. Interpret the celebration however you like but after forcing Tigres' own-goal, which was essentially a goal from Zendejas, the player ran to a camera, imaginary phone in hand.
Cruz Azul pull a Cruz Azul and drop points once again
For the fourth time since July, Cruz Azul have failed to hold onto a lead, most recently slipping to a 2-2 draw against 10-man FC Juarez on Friday.
Following a spirited push towards a Liga MX title in the 2021 Clausura, Cruz Azul once appeared to have shaken away the last-minute breakdowns that infamously defined them, but over the last few weeks, those tendencies have crept up again for the Mexico City club.
Against Juarez, who were down to 10 players after Javier Salas was shown a red early into the first half, Cruz Azul were set to earn a 2-0 result before their opponents scored in the 86th minute to make it 2-1. Then, in injury time, former Granada winger Darwin Machis rocketed in a penalty in the 98th minute that secured a 2-2 score line.
In just his second game in charge and after fan protests outside of team headquarters in August, new manager Raul "Potro" Gutierrez looked devastated and tired after the loss.
"We just have to do things better," said a dejected Gutierrez. "We stopped touching the ball, we stopped opening up the field."
'Chofis' and Ibañez carry Pachuca to fourth win in a row
Credit is due to Pachuca. While most of the Mexican soccer world has focused on big clubs, headline-stealing comments and off-the-field drama that typically dominates conversations, Pachuca have quietly flourished in the Apertura through a strong defense and an efficient attack that has placed them at third in the table.
On Saturday, Los Tuzos showcased these capabilities through an uncomplicated 2-0 victory over Santos Laguna. With his seventh goal of the season, making him level with league-leading goalscorer Henry Martin, Nicolas Ibañez put Pachuca up 1-0 before substitute Javier "Chofis" Lopez would go on to score the second. Initially seen as a potentially risky signing on a player who might have already hit his peak, Chofis has been a revelation with two goals and an assist in his first four appearances.
Alongside them, others such as Kevin Alvarez, Luis Chavez and Aviles Hurtado were all just as impactful, helping provide their fourth win in a row. It's a well-balanced team with a handful of young domestic options, and under the guidance of the boisterous yet astute manager Guillermo Almada, they'll continue collecting points when others might not be paying attention.
- Elsewhere in Week 12: Atletico San Luis and Club Tijuana earned a scoreless 0-0 draw, a late disallowed goal in the 90th minute held Puebla to a 1-1 draw with Queretaro, Leon scored twice after the 89th minute but fell just a goal short of Necaxa in a 3-2 result, Monterrey's 19 shots weren't enough to avoid a 0-0 draw with Mazatlan, Atlas goalkeeper Camilo Vargas stood tall in net to hold his side to a 0-0 draw with Pumas, and what was yet another 0-0 draw, Chivas and Toluca closed out the weekend without a goal in their Sunday meeting.
- Chivas weren't exactly happy with the officiating in their game, eventually posting a tweet using a VAR-related pun about their penalty and goal that had been overturned.
- Last Wednesday, Martino utilized a roster made up entirely of Liga MX players in a 1-0 friendly loss to Paraguay at Atlanta's Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The night before the game, El Tri's manager stated that "40 to 50 percent" of the squad are expected to be called up for Mexico's World Cup roster.
- To close things out, we go to American striker Jozy Altidore. The Puebla forward collected the 200th goal of his career last week (for club and country) in a 1-1 result with Queretaro, but what claimed much, much more attention was a viral clip that showed his response to a coconut-flavored sports drink, which may not have been to his liking.