Liga MX at a Crossroads – Whether They Know it or Not

ligaMXA FEW YEARS AGO, the string-pullers in the Mexican soccer business decided to re-brand their top flight as Liga MX.  New logo, new theme music, new cup tournament – it was quite a show.  The newly branded Liga MX was positioning itself to make a move on the global stage.  The cynics, and there are a lot (too many, really), who make it their business to follow and report on Mexican soccer responded they only way they know how:  cynically.  It is nothing more than just a fresh new color of lipstick for the same pig was the general consensus.  And why not?  The string-pullers of Mexican soccer have long had the reputation, whether justly earned or not, for not being the most transparent when it comes to league business.  The problem is, while these reporters, columnists, pundits, bloggers, beat writers, and pretty TV people are all at the ready to fire the most tired of criticisms, they are not talking about what is happening on the field.  As it turns out, they quality of play on the field is pretty good.

Instead, we hear incessantly that Liga MX is nothing more than mediocre.  Are they paying attention?  The league promotes itself, or at least tries to.  But their positive spins are lost in translation when it goes through the media middlemen.

That’s a problem.  And it is something that Liga MX needs to solve in the very near future.  So me of it is self inflicted.  There is a reason the press is so jaded.  Some of Liga MX’s existing policies are, well, baffling.  Take, for instance, coverage.  Here in the US at least, when watching Fox Deportes, or ESPN, or Univision Deportes, when they talk about the league, the networks may not have the right to show highlights.

Highlights!  It is not a good look.  Not in these times, when all it takes is a tap of the finger to see a goal scored from anywhere in the world.

Liga MX needs as many outlets as possible, and it certainly doesn’t help that the ones who talk about it the most spend a good deal of their time trashing it.  Some of that can’t be helped; it is what sells, after all.  So find new outlets.  Buy time on Eurosport and produce an hour-long weekly recap of the league. Or a couple of 60 min condensed games.  The point is:  get more exposure.  Andre-Pierre Gignac has been the best story of the season.  Why isn’t there a French page on the Tigres website, or at the very least a Twitter account in French?

Their website could use a face-lift, but, truth be told, it has improved dramatically from its initial launch. However, there is no English language version of their website.  Or any other, for that matter.  Their social media can also use a boost.  Again, this is a rights issue, and I get that. But it would be a smart move to have a video available minutes after someone scored, or a great play, etc. Liga MX’s official twitter is somewhat informative – but again, there is a lot of room to improve.

Why the need for all this?  Beacuse Liga MX is not just competing against MLS, but also La Liga, The EPL, Bundesliga, NFL, NBA, Ligue 1, and the Chinese League that has tapped into a seemingly endless pool of funds.  Liga MX has the structure, the funding and the stability to do well in this New World Order.  Their biggest obstacle, however, is for them to prove (to themselves as well) that they belong.  One step to clearing the obstacle is to get the word out.  Hey, everyone!  Liga MX is pretty good.  It is!  Really.  Here watch these highlights.

Instead of doing little to shake the reputation the league currently has, it can rewrite the narrative with an introduction to each new market.  In other soccer loving countries, Liga MX could become a solid, entertaining league that has some quality players.  Players could see a league that pays well, and is extremely competitive.  Other clubs around the world could see a league that is well financed, and open for business.

But this is entirely up to Liga MX.  If they continue to believe that the status quo has worked before and will do so moving forward, then they are missing out on a huge opportunity.  If the only market outside of Mexico that matters to Liga MX is the Mexpat one in the US, then they are selling their own league short.

The String-pullers decided on the name Liga MX for a reason.  Now it is time to let the rest of the world in on it.

Ep. 21: Dos a Zero Futbol Podcast – Mexico vs Senegal – Molero

MexVsSenThis episode we talk about the recent Mexico “molero” vs Senegal. We discuss the flops and stand out players from the game. We also have sound clips from Osorio and Pikolin from post the game press conference and mixed zone. Osorio answered a question from the Senegal press on the reason why Mexico gave Senegal a few good scoring opportunities during the game.

We also discuss the Chicharito injury and his career in Europe. As well as some Libertadores talk and LigaMX. A bet was also taken between two of our panelists on the winner of the Santos vs Monterrey game from tonight.

Tune in!

There will be Haters: Mexico vs Senegal

Tomorrow evening the Mexican national team will take on Senegal in Miami, Florida. The players called up for both Mexico and Senegal, are not be 1st string National team players. No Chicharito, No Andres Guardado. We do get to see some young and up and coming players. The two goal scorers vs Honduras Jurgen Damm will be there but Javier Aguino, will not due to injury.

Some good young players will get to show their worth. Chucky Lozano, Carlos Salcedo, Erick Gutierrez and others will get a chance. So while many say that a visit to the Mall will be among one of the highlights of this visit to Miami, some of these players will be fighting to impress. They will be looking to show Osorio that they can “aprovech” their opportunity with El Tri and deserve a future call up in a more critical game.

There will be haters, however. Many call this game a waste of time. They question the Marlin’s Park promotion, as one in particular has pictures of 1st team players such as Chicharito, Guardado and Oribe. It is hard to think that Mexicans will go to the stadium to watch this game not knowing that it is not a FIFA date and these players will not actually be there. Futbol passion is strong, however, so the fan showing may still be solid. However, I am not sure how big a Mexican community exists in the Miami area.

The epic hater award for this particular game, goes to the great Carlos Albert. Formerly from Futbol Picante, he gives his take on the FMF and the use of the national team. He calls it straight up prostituting the National Team, for financial benefits. The FMF being the Pimp daddy counting the dollars after the players attract the fans.

Have a listen to his take, and sorry for the vertical video. 😀

Ep. 20: Dos a Zero Futbol Podcast – New name, new episode.

dos a zeroOur very first episode under the Dos a Zero name. We had some good convo about some the Chucky Lozano red card and the question of inept refs in Mexico. I agree, it was a bad call against Lozano, others thought all the refs are inept and against the beloved Aguilas de America. 🙂

We also discuss the potentials for the call up that just came out today. The highlight of our discussion was Pikolin. Some despise and some are glad for him. We will have to wait and see how he performs next week and if this will be his only call up ever.

We had some participation in the Youtube chat, and it is appreciated. If you have any comments or questions, be sure to follow us on twitter for the Youtube link every Wednesday. Or in the case of next week, most likely on Thursday.

Saludos

No more non FIFA date friendlies?

pikolinNext week Mexico will play the Senegal National Team in Miami, in what surely can be classified as a “Partido Molero”. Wednesday, February 10th is not a FIFA date and we will not see the top Mexican players in Miami. The Mexicans playing in Europe will not be called up, so we will have to enjoy seeing an abundance of LigaMX players.

We may even get the pleasure of seeing the great Pumas goalkeeper, Pikolin Palacios! In an Interview with Fernando Schwartz and Valeria Marin, Jorge Vergara brought up a good point about these types of games in the US. He mentioned and approved of the idea of not having friendlies in the US that are not on FIFA dates. This would mean all friendlies in the US would showcase the Mexican stars playing in Europe, such as Chicharito, Guardado, etc. The games would be entertaining and the fans would get their moneys worth.

It would also mean that new up and comers may never get a chance to put on the “verde”. Players like Alejandro Palacios and others, who we may be able to see next Wednesday, but possibly never in any real tournament such as Copa Oro or Copa America, much less the World Cup. However, is it right to take away the illusion of representing their country, even if it for just a meaningless friendly?

The fact is Chivas is in danger of relegation and giving up players for a “meaningless” friendly could put the team in further problems, especially if injuries occur. It looks like Vergara and Chivas will only offer up Carlos Salcedo, who is suspended anyways from week 5 LigaMX play.

So while no longer playing non FIFA date friendlies may seem like a good idea to some, such as Chivas, in their state of distress, there may be many LigaMX players who would love to put on the El Tri jersey, even if it is only for a few times. As far as the Mexican fans in the US, there are many who will be more than happy to pay high prices for tickets to attend these games, even without the likes of Chicharito or Tecatito.

The Federation will also be happy with a nice increase in the size of their pocketbooks.

Soccer Chronicle will be onsite in Miami covering the game, so stay tuned to our twitter feed for videos, pictures and news from the game.

Time for Some Upgrades

46 years ago, Mexico staged what many folks believe was the finest World Cup in history, even to this day.  The 16 team tournament only needed 5 stadiums to schedule games.  The facilities that had the honor were the Estadios Azteca, Jalisco, Cuauhtemoc, Nou Camp, and Toluca’s Bombonera.

Amazingly enough, 46 years later those stadiums are still being used today; they are the home stadiums for America, Atlas, Puebla, Leon, and Toluca.  And sure, they have been renovated over the years.  Some more than others.  One’s bandages are about to be removed.puebla

Puebla’s newly renovated Cuauhtemoc will open its doors for the first time since its face lift this weekend.  It was quite the nip and tuck.  Even though the new facade has been compared to a commode, it is a marked improvement to a stadium that had been condemned not that long ago.

It could be the start of a new arms race in Liga MX. Monterrey debuted a gorgeous new stadium in time for the Apertura 2015 season.  And just last week, Grupo Pachuca announced that they have started discussions about upgrading their playing grounds in Leon, although those talks are in the very preliminary stages.  The group is ready to finance the entire deal, provided the State of Guanajuato donates the land.  Stay tuned.

A city that is in desperate need of some new digs is Mexico City.  Estadio Azteca was quite the marvel in the 1960’s when it opened.  It was the inspiration for the modernization of NFL stadiums, with its verticality and multitude of luxury boxes.  Despite the occasional face lift, time has not been kind to the Coloso. Has anyone had to use the restrooms there?  Before you start hyperventilating and expecting the worst, let’s rip off the band aid early.  Yes, it is time to replace the Azteca.  It happens.  Wembley has been replaced, Highbury as well, as has Yankee Stadium.   Their fans survived.

So, it is a question of when, rather than if.

Financing for the projects will most likely be private.  There have been a few stadiums that have gone online since Mexico last hosted a World Cup in 1986, each with their own cautionary tale.

necaxaEstadio Victoria – Aguascalientes

The stadium was built as the new home for one of Mexico’s oldest clubs, Necaxa, who moved away from Mexico City.  The stadium delivered a modern structure to host games.  Unfortunately, the team’s front office could not deliver a team the fans wantd to see.  The shininess wore off, fans stopped coming, and Necaxa faded to the second division. Now Necaxa has the Liga Ascenso’s nicest digs.  Unless Chivas joins them this summer.

omnilife2Estadio Omnilife – Guadalajara

Sometimes private financing can only take you so far.  Jorge Vergara has been rumored to lose his shirt in the financing of this stadium, which led to the original playing surface being the fake stuff. But that is only one of the problems.  The location is awful.  The outrageous Sunday traffic on gameday has caused many Chivas fans to stay away.  And the 5pm local start time puts half the stands in direct sunlight.  The Stadium itself is wonderful, but there is a lot more to stadiums than just the structure.  If you build it, they will not come if it is a huge pain in the ass to do so.

bancomerEstadio Bancomer – Monterrey

On the surface, Rayados’ new home look spectacular.  Gorgeous, shiny, modern, accessible, it seems to have it all.  Except for one teency little problem:  ventilation.  The initial reports from the fans is that the stadium is great, but the air does not move too freely. And anyone who has been to Monterrey in August can attest to the fact that it is oppressively hot.  Laredo Hot.  Being the creative muchachos, they are, the Rayados fans have dubbed the new stadium la tamalera.

 

New stadiums are coming to Liga MX, slowly but surely.  But even a shiny new bauble doesn’t necessarily guarantee success, as we have seen.

2015 in Review Episode 2: Attack of the Chon Chon

Any fan of Mexican football can attest to the fact that a roller coaster ride is an understated metaphor for the spectrum of emotions that one experiences in the course of following the team.  That full spectrum, the whole Roy G. Biv, was on display yet again in 2015.

We left off this particular year in review in Eindhoven, where the PSV supporters let it be known that Andres Guardado was an integral part of their championship season.  A well planned and executed display.  It was nice to see.  If only other parts of Mexico’s 2015 were pulled off as smoothly as this.

Worst Planning

Mexico’s Copa America campaign

mexico copa america For the second straight Copa America, Mexico was left wondering what could have been after another group stage exit.  It should have never come to that.

In 2011, Mexico was forced to send less than their best thanks to a Chuck Blazer mandated “it’s the U23 or don’t play” edict that ensured that Mexico’s best players would participate in the 2011 Gold Cup, and Chuck would maximize his 10% commissions on the $10 beers sold at Jerryworld.

The U23 team selected had a terrific run-up to the tournament, only for it to blow up in their faces after Chepo de la Torre suspended the core of the side after a prostitution scandal.  The side that played in Argentina was a hastily put together mishmash of Liga MXers an U20 stalwarts.  It didn’t work, but at least they had an excuse.

In 2015, there were no such limits to the roster, but Miguel Herrera decided to send a B squad anyway.  Once again, a group that had never played together were lassoed into service while the A team was getting ready for the Gold Cup.  Mexico did not embarrass themselves, but the results and the personnel could have been better.  It also did not help that Miguel Herrera, fresh off his politically motivated tweets, lost what little support he had left with some more outrageous statements.  Add to that Javier Hernandez’ post tournament comments that he was ready, willing, and able to play both tournaments, but was never asked to do so.

Mexico will continue to play in the South American tournament as an invited guest because the TV money generated by their participation is too succulent for CONMEBOL to pass up.  But Mexico has to decide how best to play the tournament.  A B side is an insult to CONMEBOL, even if the A side’s European clubs would not allow their players to double dip.  The most logical thing to do, then, is to send a U23 with a handful of pros.  Give the young guns a showcase for their considerable skills.

 

Most Underrated Coach

Raul “Potro” Gutierrez

potroHe led one U17 to a World Cup title and another to the final.  The natural progression was for Raul “Potro” Gutierrez to take charge of the U20 teams.  He did not, and they were not able to match the results they achieved one level below.  Instead he jumped a level, and led Mexico to their 2nd straight win in CONCACAF’s Olympic qualifying tournament. He is poised to take a team that may be more talented than the one that won Gold in London 4 years ago to Rio.

Yet anyone who has had the need to hire a coach over the past few months doesn’t have Potro’s digits.  He has not gotten a sniff at any of the numerous openings that pop up like mushrooms around Liga MX.  He was not considered when Mexico needed an interim (or permanent) National team.  His current gig takes into next summer, but there is no reason why he can’t moonlight, at say, Morelia in the time being.

Whoever does take that chance won’t be disappointed.

Coach with most Pressure

Juan Carlos Osorio / Iganacio Ambriz

No surprises here.  The former has stepped into a cauldron that is perpetually boiling.  The latter had his motives questioned by his boss during his last game of import, a loss to  Chinese club and Asian champion, Guangzou.  Both have no choice but to respond with results in 2015.

jc osorio

Juan Carlos Osorio got off on the wrong foot with the Mexican media just by being announced as Mexico’s national team coach.  And then when he had the nerve to talk about tactics, the media tried to paint him as an intellectually pompous brainiac.  There is always a fatal flaw with Mexico’s coaches according to the media.  Hugo Sanchez was too ambitious, while Javier Aguirre was not ambitious enough.  Miguel Herrera was as educated as they were, so he did not deserve the position he had attained. Osorio is too educated, and, worse, a Colombian.  Nothing he does will be good enough, wins will be discarded and losses will be indictments that will only add to the chorus of talking heads who want to fire the guy yesterday.

And he was one of the few who wanted the gig.

Nacho Ambriz has the players to contend for another title at Club America, and will have front office support as long as he keeps winning, or avoids blundering his way to a loss.  He did so in the Liga MX Semis, when down to 9 men, did not sit back and absorb what little pressure Pumas was providing.  And over in Japan, he inexplicably ceded momentum to the Chinese side, and paid the ultimate price.

America will have defeats, but will the other team beat them, or will they hand them the win on a silver platter.  If Ambriz can avoid the latter, he should stick around.

Why don’t you stick around, we have a few more chapters to go.

Technical skill in USA vs Mexico

One of the main thoughts I have had in mind and truly believe in, is that the reason Mexican players have greater touch and on the ball technical ability than their US rivals is because they have the ball at their feet from an earlier age among other reasons. Lets analyze some of these reasons.

USA Soccer lifestyle:

  • First, in the US kids play soccer in the back yard if there is time, but mostly during soccer practice and the actual soccer game.
  • Second, kids will always play sports in the house and anywhere they can, but it is more common in the US that they have a pointy shaped football and throw it around. There are other more popular sports, in the US that take away from time playing with a ball at their feet.
  • Third, is it easier to play with the soccer ball in your house in Mexico or in the US? This theory I am not sure on. Do US parents require more order and are strict on their kids breaking something while trying some Ronaldinho moves? I am not sure.

Mexico Soccer lifestyle:

  • Kids in Mexico will play soccer anywhere and everywhere. They don’t need a fancy metal goal with nice white nets. They don’t need nice green grass. They play in the streets, in parks and even in dirt fields.
  • Mexican kids don’t have other sports that are more popular than soccer. This is arguable in some parts of the country where baseball is pretty popular. Soccer is the sport to watch on TV and with balls sold at every market, there is no reason a kid wouldn’t have one growing up.

 

To demonstrate this reasoning. In the last few years while living in the US, never once have I seen kids playing soccer in the street. I have a park behind my house and have only seen kids play soccer there maybe once. I have a full soccer field down the road and I have never seen any kids play soccer there on their own.

Another aspect of this is the Mexican-American population, who admittedly are the ones that are most interested in soccer in the first place. Do they play in the streets, even though they live in the US? I would say no. The US culture seems to sway this, be it playing Xbox or needing a better field, but probably the biggest reason is not enough Mexican-Americans around to start a game. I think in neighborhoods of higher concentration of Mexicans/Mexican-Americans, you would find more kids playing soccer and even in the streets of the US.

Now I have spent the last 3 days in Mexico and going out and about I see the following, which I record for hard proof of the Soccer culture in Mexico. You might even be impressed with some of the moves and skill that these kids do and surely emulate from their favorite players.

Enjoy:

 

Group Seeds and Game Dates Announced for Historic 2016 Copa America Centenario

Argentina, Brazil, Mexico and the United States Head the Four Groups in the Tournament;  Seeded Nations to Visit Nine of the Ten Host Markets in Group Play

Miami (Thursday, December 17, 2015) – The Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF), the South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL) and the Copa America Centenario Local Organizing Committee (LOC) announced today the group seeds and game dates for the historic 2016 Copa America Centenario. The once-in-a-lifetime soccer summer event, which honors 100 years of the Copa America tournament, will feature some of the world’s best teams and players competing from June 3-26, 2016, in the United States.

As the host nation, the United States earns the Group A seed, while Argentina, as the highest FIFA-ranked nation in the Americas (per December FIFA rankings), will be seeded top of Group D.

In celebration of the rich soccer tradition in the hemisphere and as the most decorated nations in the last 100 years in international competitions from their respective confederations, the national teams of Brazil and Mexico have also been awarded group seeds, and will head Groups B and C, respectively.

The remaining 12 participating nations will be sorted into the four groups in early 2016 based on a public draw. Seeding for the draw will be based on the December 2015 FIFA World Rankings. Details of groups and procedures for the draw will be announced leading up to that event.

In announcing the seeded teams, organizers also revealed the dates of matches, including the cities each seeded nation will visit, as well as the dates they will play during the group phase of the tournament.

Tigres makes quick work of Pumas

It did not take long for Tigres to take the initiative in the Liga MX Apertura final vs Pumas.  It was all of 10 minutes before the Monterrey side grabbed hold of the series and looks to not let go.

For some, the penalty called against Pumas’ Javier Cortés was karmic justice.  It was Cortés’ tackle that led to the fracture of America’s Javier Güémez last week in the their semifinal.  Cortés was not carded or even called for a foul.  Andre Pierre Gignac, the French international who has been nothing short of sensational since his arrival to the Sultana del Norte this past summer, delivered a thundering, unstoppable blast.  It was 1-0, but it may well have been 10-0.  The rout was on.  The Frenchman, along with his strike partner, former Brazilian international Rafael Sobis, had their way with a Pumas backline that has picked the worst time in the season to become ball watchers.  Their inability to control the scoring tandem was only compounded by the fact that Tigres’ wingers, Javier Aquino and Jurgen Damm, feasted on their slower defenders.  And then there was the complete control in the midfield by Guido Pizarro.  The Argentine, like most holding midfielders, will never get the recognition he deserves, but the way he dominated the middle of the pitch was as close to an MVP performance as one can see at a championship game.  There is a reason why the strikers and wingers were so effective. The reason last night was Pizarro.

One would have never known that Damm was playing with an injury that limited his effectiveness.  Pumas had no answer for the right winger’s deep runs, where Damm set up his wingman Aquino with the second.

2 goals for Pumas to overcome was always going to be difficult, but a third would be borderline insurmountable.  And that is exactly what happened early in the second half as Sobis, tipped in a Gignac shot that Pikolin Palacios could only parry away. It is interesting that for the second week in a row, a team will take a 3-goal lead to the second leg to Mexico’s Olympic Stadium on Sunday.  The difference here is Pumas is just not equipped to take the offensive initiative like Club America was.  They are an absorb and counter side that used the strategy to great success during the season.

Now they will have to press a team whose coach, Tuca Ferretti, despite having more than 70% possession in the first leg, can’t shake his reputation as being the cat mouse coach.  It is true that Tuca has softened a little; his teams play a little more offensively than before.  But when they need, they counter, and like they showed last week in Toluca, it is still as lethal as ever

There are still 90 minutes left to play, and we all know that anything can happen.  But Tigres is the team that has the most talent, and playing the best soccer right now.  And Tuca is still Tuca.  They can be be more offensive, but order and shape is still what he cares about most.

What it all means is that come Sunday night, for the 2nd time in two months, Tuca will emerge sans moustache and Tigres will have their 4th trophy in hand.

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