Manuel Veth –
Mexico’s top-flight football competition, the Liga MX is quickly developing into the go-to competition for hipsters looking to follow a new league. The decline of national competitions in Brazil and Argentina, and Liga MX’s ability to still outspend Major League Soccer, has meant that Mexico’s top flight is now the strongest league outside of Europe.
Although MLS has recently caught up with Liga, MX, the Mexican top flight, still has a major advantage when it comes to attracting star players. Major League Soccer has emulated the concept of other North American sport leagues by enforcing a soft-salary cap of $3.66 million—although designated player spots, and other exceptions mean that many MLS teams operate with much higher budgets.
This has made it harder for MLS teams to retain their top players. Los Angeles Galaxy defender, Omar Gonzalez, for example, left MLS after his club filled the three designated player spots with other players—Gonzalez had to either take a pay cut or leave the club. Gonzalez then joined CF Pachuca were he essentially makes the same money after taxes that he would have made with the Galaxy after taxes.
Liga MX vs MLS – The Mexicans are winning the recruitment game
Gonzalez is, in fact, just one of many examples of MLS players who have made the jump because of salary cap restrictions. Jorge Villafãna left Portland Timbers for Santos Laguna following Portland’s MLS Cup victory at the end of 2015, because the American’s salary structure no longer fitted the MLS salary cap structure.
But it is not just MLS players, who are joining Liga MX. Pumas have captured Nicolás Castillo, who absolutely dominated the Chilean Primera División last season. Meanwhile Pachuca are not just relying on American import Omar Gonzalez, but have perhaps two of Mexico’s most talented players in 21-year-old winger Hirving Lozano, and 21-year-old central midfielder Érick Gutiérrez.
Another young Mexican star to look out for is Deportivo Guadalajara’s Rodolfo Pizarro. The 23-year-old Chivas attacking forward has already been linked with a move to Europe, but competitive wages in Mexico have meant that many Mexican players are hesitant to make the move to Europe at a young age.
Although this has been criticized by Mexico fans, who feel that players need to prove themselves in Europe, it has actually meant that the league is more competitive, because Mexican teams do not experience the sort of drain of talent that we have seen in Argentina, and Brazil.
In fact, in terms of salary, Mexican clubs can often compete with European clubs. Tigres, for example, were able to land French international forward, André-Pierre Gignac, who they signed from Marseille in the summer of 2015, and Chilean forward Eduardo Vargas from Hoffenheim. Despite a slow start to the Clausura, Tigres are currently considered the strongest team in the Western Hemisphere, as the squad also includes the talented Mexican star, Jürgen Damm.
Liga MX’s setup means that games are always interesting
Despite all the star power on Tigres’ squad, however, the setup of the league guarantees that not a single club can become a dominant force as is the case in many top European leagues.
The Liga MX season is, essentially, split into two halves: the opening stage, Apertura, and closing stage, Clausura. The 18 teams play each other once, after which the top eight teams reach the playoffs. This means that every single game is a must win scenario for every club.
CF Monterrey, for example, missed out on the playoffs after the first stage of the season when they lost seven games, and only finished ninth. The same was true for big spenders like Querétaro, and Cruz Azul. Halfway through the Clausura stage, Apertura champions Tigres find themselves in tenth place, and will, therefore, not make the playoffs. The same is true for eleventh placed América, who narrowly lost the Apertura final to Tigres.
The short-term format has meant that clubs are much more dedicated to winning games, which in turn means that teams are unwilling to give up even seemingly hopeless situations. The matchday 7 goal-fest between Pumas and Tijuana is a perfect example. Tijuana were up three goals with just 20 minutes to go when Castillo pulled on back for Pumas. Pumas would eventually draw the match.
Pumas almost repeated the feat on matchday 8. The club was 4-1 down against Querétaro. Pumas rallied back, and fell just short of a draw, losing the match 4-3. Pumas and Querétaro were, however, not the only two sides that celebrated goal fests on matchday 8. Chiapas beat Chivas 4-3, and Santos Laguna and Necaxa battled it out to a 2-2 draw. There were 29 goals in nine games on matchday 8 alone.
Liga MX are a spectacle on the stands
On top of that, the league also provides a decent spectacle on the stands. Matchday 8 had an average attendance of 29,450. Liga MX had an average attendance of 26,600 following the conclusion of the 2016-17 Apertura stage, which makes it the fourth best attended football league in the world behind the Bundesliga, the English Premier League, and La Liga.
With full stadiums, plenty of goals, and the uncertainty over league championships, Liga MX has become a viable alternative for football fans who are somewhat put off by the monotony of Europe’s big leagues. That is, however, not to say that Liga MX is perfect.
Liga MX only relegates one club per season and, unlike Europe, the relegated club is not the club that finished last, but rather the team with the lowest average points over the past three seasons. Currently, that team is Morelia, who have averaged 1.1075 points over the last three seasons. The team promoted from the Ascenso MX (second division) is determined via a playoff between the Apertura, and Clausura champions (a team is automatically promoted should they win both tournaments).
This has meant that Liga MX has become a bit of a closed shop between the top 18 teams in Mexican football. But calls in Mexico to reform the relegation/promotion procedure suggest that Liga MX will soon become more inclusive to smaller clubs that want to break into the competition.
Manuel Veth is a freelance journalist, and podcaster for WorldFootballIndex.com. He is also a holder of a Doctorate of Philosophy in History from King’s College London, and his thesis is titled: “Selling the People’s Game: Football’s transition from Communism to Capitalism in the Soviet Union and its Successor States”, which will be available in print soon. Originally from Munich, Manuel has lived in Amsterdam, Kyiv, Moscow, Tbilisi, London, and currently is located in Victoria BC, Canada. Follow Manuel on Twitter @homosovieticus.