Week 12 of the 2023 Clausura is now in the books! Looking back at the latest action in the top flight of Mexican men's soccer, here are three talking points and a few additional observations from the Liga MX weekend, which featured two clasico rivalry matches.
Club America embarrass Chivas in Clasico Nacional
In a foreshadowing of problems at the sold-out Estadio Akron when a fully dressed mariachi singer had audio issues during the national anthem, Chivas consistently ran into problems of their own after finding themselves down 3-0 by halftime. Although Chivas did end up fighting back in an eventual 4-2 result, Los Rojiblancos didn't look dangerous in the attack until Club America opened up the scoresheet for them in the second half through an own-goal. Immediately after the final whistle, Chivas' Victor Guzman was then given a red when he approached the referee.
"First of all I would like to apologize to our fans for this defeat," said a stern-looking Chivas manager Veljko Paunovic after the loss. "There's no doubt that this team has room for improvement."
Once appearing as true title-contenders just a couple of weeks back through a seven-game undefeated run, Chivas' lofty morale was brought back to earth by commanding frontline performances from Club America goalscorers like Jonathan "Cabecita" Rodriguez and Henry Martin. With his league-leading 11th goal of the season that helped push Club America above Chivas in the standings, Martin provided one of the images of the weekend through a bizarrely unique way of celebrating his second half strike.
In a throwback to a controversial celebration done by Club America icon Cuauhtemoc Blanco, Martin got on all fours in front of Chivas' net, lifted his back right leg and then pretended to urinate on the goal.
Unlike the more fiery Blanco, Martin felt compelled to release a statement afterwards.
"I let myself get carried away with the euphoria and celebrated the goal like my idol Cuauhtemoc. An apology to everyone who felt offended, it wasn't the intention," said the Mexican striker.
Either way, once briefly in the shadows of Chivas' blistering start to 2023, Martin and Club America have knocked down their rivals to seventh in the standings while moving up to second in the table. With what looks to be some late season momentum, Las Aguilas are beginning to shake off some of their old plumage and significantly pick up speed after surpassing Chivas.
Monterrey sneak past Tigres in Clasico Regio
Death, taxes and another week with Monterrey at the very top of the Liga MX standings. With a narrow 1-0 victory in the Clasico Regio against Tigres on Saturday, Los Rayados not only defeated their crosstown rivals, but also became the first Liga MX team to secure their spot in this season's playoffs.
Supported by a brilliant performance from Esteban Andrada in net and an incredible long-range goal from Luis Romo, Monterrey spoiled Tigres' party in front of a raucous crowd at El Volcan. Even with 10 shots in the second half, five of which hit the target, Tigres' talent heavy attack once again had complications with scoring necessary goals.
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While sixth place Tigres have slowed their pace with just one goal in their last three matches (two losses and one win), Monterrey have distanced themselves from the pack with their third win in a row and an eight-point cushion over second place.
In an attempt to restrain some of the excitement that is building around the Monterrey side that have yet to lose since Week 1, veteran manager Victor Manuel Vucetich reiterated that there's still plenty of work ahead of them.
"Despite the fact that we've had a good run so far, we haven't won absolutely anything," said Vucetich. "We're very aware of that."
For what it's worth, FiveThirtyEight currently has Monterrey with the highest odds (30%) of winning the Clausura championship.
As for Tigres, in what proved to be a strange end to their frustrating weekend, the club made an unexpected statement on Sunday that condemned "inappropriate gestures" made by their mascot at the match. In the statement, Tigres said that they will "act accordingly."
Queretaro have fans in stands since March 2022 riots
One year after the violent fan riots in March of 2022 that shocked the Mexican soccer world, Queretaro's Estadio Corregidora officially reopened its doors to the public last Sunday. With 28,000 in attendance, Queretaro bounced back from a 2-1 deficit against FC Juarez and scored an equalizer in the 87th minute that solidified a 2-2 result at home.
More significant than the result itself was the security and safety of the venue that had been closed to supporters for 12 months. Last March during a game between Queretaro and Atlas, clashes spilled out from the stands and into the field that sent thousands, including players, fleeing for safety. Officials stated that 26 were injured, but skepticism lingered from fans and media outlets who alleged that there were unconfirmed deaths.
In spite of a long list of punishments and fines that followed from Liga MX, there was criticism for a lack of steps that could have disaffiliated Queretaro or entirely banned all barras, hooligan-like supporters' groups in Mexico.
However, in the league and Queretaro's credit, Sunday's match went ahead without any major reports of issues or fights. In preparation, 1,200+ members of security were brought in, who according to ESPN MX, were given drug tests before the game. Those in attendance had to utilize a "Fan ID" app, an online pre-registration tool that uses facial recognition technology. Juarez also arrived in a nondescript bus into the Estadio Corregidora, which stopped beer sales by halftime.
With fans wearing t-shirts that were given out that had messages like "Somos Una Familia" (We're A Family) and "Somos Queretaro" (We're Queretaro) -- and high-profile figures such as Liga MX president Mikel Arriola and global superstar Ronaldinho in attendance -- the match was clearly an emotional event for local supporters who were consistently vocal.
"The fans were spectacular, they gave me goosebumps, today the people earned the tie," said Queretaro manager Mauro Gerk after the comeback.
It's a move in the right direction for Queretaro and Liga MX, but that shouldn't mean that those in charge can pat themselves on the back just yet. In and around other stadiums this season, a few reports have still emerged regarding altercations, even with new security protocols. Going forward, it also remains to be seen if what we saw on Sunday in Queretaro is a long-term solution, or simply a temporary band-aid until things begin to calm down.
In either case, there are no guarantees that enough has been done to curtail the violence that could once again arise.
- Elsewhere in Week 12: A brace from Brian Lozano led Atlas to a dominant 4-0 away win over Puebla, Club Tijuana fought back from a three-goal deficit in a dramatic 3-3 draw with Toluca, Necaxa claimed their first away victory in a 1-0 result over Mazatlan, a lone 82nd minute goal by Ivan Morales pushed Cruz Azul to a narrow 1-0 win against Atletico San Luis, Pumas suffered their third consecutive defeat in a 2-0 loss at home to Pachuca, and Leon's Victor Davila scored twice in a 4-1 win over Santos Laguna.
- Hours after the loss to Pachuca, Pumas announced that they had parted ways with Rafael Puente Jr. as their manager. The 44-year-old Mexican coach, who was hired last October, leaves Pumas with a 3W-2D-7L record in the Clausura season.
- Club America winger and dual-national Alejandro Zendejas officially committed to the U.S. men's national team last Tuesday. Also eligible for Mexico if he was willing to file a one-time switch, Zendejas was then included in Wednesday's USMNT call-up for CONCACAF Nations League matches this month. Juarez's Alan Sonora was also included in the call-up.
- Leon (3-0 on aggregate vs Tauro), Tigres (1-1 on aggregate vs Orlando City, with away-goal tiebreaker) and Atlas (5-4 on aggregate vs Olimpica) all qualified for the quarterfinal stage of the 2023 CONCACAF Champions League. Pachuca, with a 1-1 aggregate tie against a Motagua side that clinched the away-goal tiebreaker, were the only Liga MX team that failed to qualify for the next CCL round. Quarterfinals will begin in early April.