Mexican Apertura roars back to life

Having come to terms with the national team’s Round-of-16 exit at the 2010 FIFA World Cup™, Mexico’s legions of football fans are turning their thoughts back to the domestic scene, with the 2010 Apertura championship set to commence on Friday.

Marking your card for the season ahead, rates the chances of the title contenders and looks at the new signings and star players who could make all the difference in what promises to be another enthralling battle for championship honours down Mexico way.

The defending champions
Following an exceptional 2010 Bicentenario campaign under Jose Manuel de la Torre and boasting a winning blend of established names and homegrown talents, Toluca look capable of launching another compelling title bid. Having held on to the core of the side that made them champions last term, Los Diablos can once again rely on the imposing backbone formed by goalkeeper Alfredo Talavera, defender Edgar Duenas, creative midfielder Sinha and forward Hector Mancilla.

Toluca’s recent successes could yet prove their downfall, however, with coach De la Torre having been mentioned in dispatches as a possible replacement for Javier Aguirre in the Mexico hotseat, a switch that would deprive the well-drilled Diablos of perhaps their biggest asset. 

Title contenders
The defending champions can expect a stiff challenge from the sides they beat to the Bicentenario crown. Leading the pack are Monterrey, the 2009 Apertura winners, who have welcomed back Chilean striker Humberto Suazo following his successful season with Zaragoza in Spain.

Fellow aspirants America revealed their ambition to return to the pinnacle once more by signing Uruguayan striker Vicente Sanchez, a mainstay at Toluca over the last decade. Also in with a chance are eternal favourites Pachuca, who will be drawing on their pool of homegrown talent once more and also have the FIFA Club World Cup UAE 2010 to look forward to in December.

Bicentenario runners-up Santos Laguna are trying to follow up last term’s heroics with another solid challenge and have been bolstered by the return of reliable Ecuadorian goal-getter Christian Benitez. The only other side who look capable of mounting a sustained title push are Guadalajara, who will be looking to their prolific youth set-up to make up for the departures of the deadly strike pairing of Javier Hernandez and Omar Bravo. 

Heading up the dark horses are Monarcas Morelia, who finally seem to have come of age thanks to the unstinting work of coach Tomas Boy and a hugely promising clutch of youngsters. Los Michoacanos will also be all the stronger for the arrival of goalkeeper Federico Vilar and midfield duo Jaime Lozano and Luis Noriega.

Finally, two big names who will be hoping for an upturn in their fortunes are Pumas UNAM and Cruz Azul. Los Universitarios have stayed loyal to their policy of not making signings but have lost three key figures in Mexico internationals Pablo Barrera and Efrain Juarez, and coach Ricardo Ferreti. Los Cementeros, meanwhile, have picked up just one new recruit in midfielder Gonzalo Pineda and have bade farewell to the ever-dependable Paraguayan midfielder Cristian Riveros.

Did you know?
The battle to avoid the drop looks set to be intense, with up to ten teams potentially facing the threat of relegation. The four sides in the greatest danger after their poor showings last time out are Jaguares, Queretaro, San Luis and the recently promoted Necaxa. Strangely enough, that quartet were the busiest sides in the close-season transfer market.

Star signings
The biggest development in the market was the return of some star acts following spells in Europe, chief among them El Chupete Suazo.  Also crossing the Atlantic once more was Mexico international Ricardo Osorio after four highly productive years in Germany, while the returning Benitez is sure to strengthen the Santos Laguna front line, and Sanchez’s pace will come in useful for America. After his fine showing for Paraguay in South Africa, Enrique Vera will add solidity to the Atlas midfield.

On the domestic front, Monarcas Morelia and Atlante have swapped former international goalkeepers, with Moises Munoz pulling on the Azulgrana shirt and Argentinian custodian Federico Vilar now lining up for the men from Morelia. One of the few foreign players to sign on the dotted line for Mexican clubs was Colombian front man Faustino Arizala, who has joined Pachuca. 

Players to watch
With several internationals having moved abroad, there will be plenty of opportunities for Mexico’s new breed to make their mark in the months ahead. Figuring among the league’s brightest prospects are Toluca midfielder Nestor Calderon, Atlas playmaker Edgar Pacheco, Guadalajara striker Omar Arellano and Monterrey forward Abraham Carreno. 

The stat
7 -
The number of different champions in Mexico in the last eight seasons. The only team to take the title twice in that time are Toluca, the winners of the 2008 Apertura and the 2010 Bicentenario.

What they said
“We are going for back-to-back championships and in doing so we want to keep playing the attacking football we are known for and to keep bringing through youth players. That’s always been the way here at Toluca,” Jose Manuel de la Torre, Toluca coach.

Have your say
Which has been the biggest signing in the build-up to the 2010 Apertura? And who are the favourites to take the title? Click on ‘Add your comment’ and share your thoughts with other users.