Liga MX also-rans prepare for busy winter

A familiar scene during the Apertura 2019: Cruz Azul players trudging off after a loss. (Photo by Armando Marin/Jam Media/Getty Images)
A familiar scene during the Apertura 2019: Cruz Azul players trudging off after a loss. (Photo by Armando Marin/Jam Media/Getty Images) /

Cruz Azul, Atlético San Luis, FC Juárez, Toluca, Puebla and Veracruz are playing out the string, but they have lots of work to do before January.

With one game remaining on the Apertura 2019 schedule, six teams have clinched spots in the Liguilla, six teams have been eliminated from contention and the seven in the middle are battling for the final two Liga MX playoff berths.

With the November FIFA break interrupting the stretch run, teams still in the hunt have had plenty of time to scheme and brainstorm ahead of their season finales. The bottom six teams are already looking ahead to the Clausura 2020 and several teams have already started to overhaul their rosters … and their coaching staffs.

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At present, one head coaching spot remains vacant (Atlético de San Luis) and another was just filled (José Manuel “Chepo” de la Torre was hired by Toluca) and another spot or two could become available depending on Matchday 19 results. (We’re looking at you, Guadalajara.)

The reprobate franchise

Naturally, the franchise with the most uncertainty is last-place Veracruz, but that is more a matter of owner Fidel Kuri’s insolvency. Liga MX officials have set up an emergency fund to pay Tiburones players and team personnel, some of whom had not been paid in six months.

The league is studying the situation and may simply boot Veracruz out of the league before the Clausura 2020 kicks off. If this happens, Tiburones players could be scrambling for jobs.

Liga MX also-rans
Veracruz goalie Sebastián Jurado patrols his area with confidence despite only being 22. (Photo by GUILLERMO ARIAS/AFP via Getty Images) /

One who might not scramble for long is goalie Sebastián Jurado. The 22-year-old keeper was in demand over the summer but decided to remain with his home-town team. He’ll be snapped up by some club if he is available (Cruz Azul will pull out its checkbook, for sure).

Meanwhile, Fidel Kuri was spotted in Amsterdam freely spending money he claims not to have (otherwise, he’d surely pay his players’ wages, right?). Some reports suggest Veracruz players were cleaning out their lockers during the current FIFA break and there is concern that they will not show up for the season finale.

Liga MX drought continues for Cruz Azul

Speaking of the Cementeros, plenty of the club’s fans are wondering which of their “heroes” will be sent packing before January. La Máquina Azul is likely to be among the busiest teams during the winter transfer window after a disastrous Apertura. The team actually won two trophies this season (SuperCopa MX and the Leagues Cup), but missing out on the playoffs extends their Liga MX title drought beyond 22 years.

Cruz Azul is in the bottom third of the table and Cementeros are fretting about who will be placed on the transfer list. They’re also apprehensive about Víctor Garcés’ threat to rewrite contracts to include performance clause. Garcés re-emerged from the woodwork during the disastrous coaching change that also upended the front office. The former team vice president caused an unholy mess (general manager Ricardo Peláez resigned) and two weeks ago a Mexico City court threw out his lawsuit challenging team president Guillermo Alvarez and ruled that his standing as club vice president was dubious.

Liga MX also-rans
Forward Édgar Méndez is one of many Cementeros who struggled this season. (Photo by Oscar Meza/Jam Media/Getty Images) /

As you might expect, many players look at the chaos up above and wonder what their immediate future looks like, especially if performance clauses are written into their contracts. Javier Salas – a likely transfer – told reporters he has a 1-year contract and it can’t be amended. He might welcome a trade. Other likely Cementeros to turn in their jerseys before January are injury-prone playmaker Elías Hernández, midfielder Steven Eustaquio who suffered a knee injury a month after joining the team in January and has yet to return, right back José Madueña, Igor Lichnovsky, Edgar Méndez, Martín Cauteruccio and Bryan Angulo.

Those last three players are forwards who have fallen out of favor due to a lack of production, Méndez (a Spaniard) and Cauteruccio (an Uurguyan) came into the Liga MX with high expectations, but too often they played with an undeserved arrogance, as if the league was beneath them. Their apparent lack of respect for opponents was brought to bear by their lack of production. Angulo was brought in before the Apertura 2019 precisely because Cementeros forwards were shooting blanks but he has been a big bust, a perfect example of panic buying (blame that one on Peláez).

And elsewhere …

In Toluca, Ricardo La Volpe was finally let go with a few stories suggesting Diablos players had revolted against his authoritarian coaching style. Whatever the problem, this team underperformed and José Manuel “Chepo” de la Torre returns for the Clausura 2020. “Chepo” led Toluca to two Liga MX titles during his previous stint with the “Choriceros” (Apertura 2008 and Bicentenario 2010).

Liga MX also-rans
Ricardo La Volpe failed to turn around Toluca’s fortunes and they missed the playoffs for the second straight season. (Photo by Manuel Velasquez/Getty Images) /

San Luis also must pick up the pieces of a shattered club. The Tuneros fired two coaches this season, the first because they saw a chance to bring in a “celebrity” manager who was then fired after allegations of corruption emerged. As for the roster, the team seems to have a solid foundation after climbing up to Liga MX from Ascenso MX over the summer, but they lack star power. Ricardo Centurión was signed to spark the offense, but the temperamental Argentine lived up to his reputation as a locker room headache and he is asking out due to lack of playing time. Some stories claimed that Centurión often refused to play, blaming niggling injuries or illnesses and he wants out. The Tuneros will oblige.

Puebla and FC Juárez are the other teams already eliminated from the playoffs. They will no doubt tinker with their rosters, but their situations are derived from their modest payrolls and not any self-inflicted locker room or front office conflagrations.