The newly renamed Liga MX served up quite a finale in its inaugural season, one that yet again produced the kind of excitement the Mexican domestic scene has become known for.
The title went to Tijuana, who have only been in business for five years and have contested a mere three championships in the top flight. Los Xolos brought the northern city to a standstill whenever they were in action, the fans turning out in droves to see their “Aztec dogs” storm to the most coveted prize in the domestic game.
Their comprehensive 4-1 aggregate win in the final came at the expense of Toluca, who ended the regular season in first place and were favourites going into the title showdown, not least because of the ten championships already under their belt and the shrewd leadership of their highly successful coach Enrique Meza.
No less surprising was Leon’s surge to the last four of the play-offs. One of Mexico’s most successful clubs of all time, Las Panzas Verdes made an enthralling return to the big stage after a ten-year absence and thrilled everyone with their entertaining, attack-minded football. The other side to reach the last four were none other than America, who were unable to end their seven-year title drought despite some sterling work by coach Miguel Herrera.
Cirilo Saucedo (Tijuana)
While it is hard to single out any one player in a close-knit side that worked hard as a unit in landing their first title, 30-year-old goalkeeper Cirilo Saucedo deserves special praise. Producing the form of his life, Saucedo did not miss a single minute of Tijuana’s 23 games and conceded a mere 19 goals in the process.
Dario Burbano (Leon)
The Colombian midfielder arrived in Mexico with no fanfare, joining a side languishing in the country’s second tier. His impact was instant. The catalyst in their long-awaited return to the first division, he showed the whole country just what he could do in his first season of top-flight football, chipping in with four goals and six assists in Leon’s compelling run to the play-off semi-finals.
25 - The number of league titles won by the 2012 Apertura semi-finalists prior to this season, the only side without a championship to their name (Tijuana) went on to take the trophy. America and Toluca have ten league triumphs apiece and Leon five, though all three were powerless to prevent Los Xolos from deservedly opening their account.
Few expected newly promoted duo Leon and Tijuana to have much say on how the season would pan out. Showing their intent to impress as early as Matchday 2, Leon marked their first home game back in the big time with a 4-0 demolition of the northerners, who nevertheless recovered from their lowliest league position of the campaign to reach the play-offs. Waiting for them there in the semi-finals were Leon, where this heavy defeat was avenged.
Guadalajara, Mexico’s most popular team, reached their lowest point after drawing at home to Puebla. After proudly announcing that they had hired the great Johan Cruyff as a consultant, Chivas won just one of their opening seven games. Though they recovered to reach the eight-team play-offs with five victories in their next ten outings, Toluca ended their challenge with a minimum of fuss in the quarter-finals.
The final day of the regular season dawned with five teams vying for the last play-off slot. Contenders Jaguares, Pumas, Santos and Tigres all failed to win their games, allowing Guadalajara to scrape through despite going down to Tijuana in their final match. Down at the bottom, Queretaro won their one and only game of the season to avoid posting the lowest points total since the start of the short-season format.
No member of Mexico’s so-called “Big Four” has gone without a title for as long as Cruz Azul, who went down to Leon in the last eight, which made it 15 years without a championship for Los Cementeros. After prevailing 2-1 at home in the first leg, Cruz Azul were overrun by their voracious rivals in the return at the Nou Camp, the 3-0 scoreline barely reflecting Leon’s superiority.
Coached by the Argentinian Antonio Mohamed, Los Xolos clinched their maiden title with a 2-0 victory at Toluca. Defending a narrow 2-1 lead from the first leg, the men from the border withstood an onslaught for the best part of 70 minutes before landing two knockout blows in the space of 60 seconds through Richard Ruiz and Duvier Riascos. Their 4-1 aggregate triumph triggered unprecedented celebrations in the streets of Tijuana, the party continuing the following day as the players paraded the trophy round town on an open-top bus.