Mon. Feb 6th, 2023


The World Cup is over, a new year has started, and a little over two months after Pachuca lifted the 2022 Apertura title, Liga MX‘s 2023 Clausura season will now officially kick off this Friday!

Will Los Tuzos be able to hold onto their championship? Will Club America’s Alvaro Fidalgo help push his squad into first once again? And perhaps most interestingly, will the structure of the league remain the same for much longer?

Looking ahead to the regular season, here are a few predictions, storylines to follow and team-by-team previews for the next Liga MX tournament.

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Title favorite: MONTERREY

Sure, the best backline from last season will now be missing Mexico international Cesar Montes, who left for La Liga’s Espanyol this winter, but Los Rayados have enough depth and talent to still get the job done in 2023. Even without Montes, Matias Kranevitter (moved to River Plate) and Rodolfo Pizarro (back at Inter Miami for the time being), the second-placed side from the recent Apertura tournament have so far kept their 12 players who earned the most minutes last season.

Going through that list is an embarrassment of riches that includes some of the top talents in Liga MX that includes Stefan Medina, Maxi Meza, Alfonso Gonzalez, Rodrigo Aguirre, Celso Ortiz, Sebastian Vegas and a handful of others that would easily be star players in any other North American club. New winter additions such as midfielders Jordi Cortizo and Omar Govea adds even more depth to Monterrey’s already skillful group.

Under the tutelage of veteran manager Victor Manuel Vucetich, there seems to be a new methodology and focus that has finally unified the large squad of talented options. Other title-favorites like Club America, Pachuca and Tigres will make things interesting, but Los Rayados should be the leading candidates for the Clausura championship.

Potential letdown: PUEBLA

It won’t be easy for Puebla to live through the post-Nicolas Larcamon era. When the up-and-coming Argentine coach was on their sideline from 2021-22, Los Camoteros consistently punched above their weight through four consecutive playoff appearances, all while never finishing below 8th in the regular season table.

Despite spending far less money on transfers and salaries than most of Liga MX’s heavy hitters, Larcamon’s energetic and unyielding style of play made Puebla highly competitive in nearly every match, which is why 2023 could be a struggle after he parted ways with the club in November.

While Larcamon is now managing Leon, Puebla have since taken a chance on his 33-year-old assistant Eduardo Arce as the new head coach. Although more Liga MX teams should give opportunities to young Mexican managers like Arce, it’s difficult to feel confident about the mid-table side that will be guided by a coach that is about to make his senior managerial debut.

MVP favorite: Alvaro Fidalgo, Club America

Outside of goalscorer Henry Martin, no player was more instrumental to Club America’s run to first in the regular season Apertura table than Spanish midfielder Alvaro Fidalgo. The agile playmaker and clever dribbler acts as a conductor in the heart of Las Aguilas‘ XI, often pulling most of the strings that helped lead to a 12W-2D-3L record last season.

The 25-year-old Real Madrid academy product has improved tournament by tournament in Mexico since 2021, and if Club America find a title this spring, it’ll likely be thanks to the player that led the Apertura in passes completed and passes in the final third.

Young player to watch: Mauricio Isais, Pachuca

Once a fairly unknown name in Liga MX, Mauricio Isais began to make waves in late 2022 through not only his role in Pachuca’s title, but also his invitation to go train with Mexico’s senior national team at the World Cup as part of a “sparring” squad.

At just 21 years of age, it’s exciting to see what else the left-back from Texas will achieve in the new year. Well-balanced in both his defensive and attacking responsibilities, Isais has a high ceiling as one of the more promising talents in Mexican soccer. By the time the summer rolls around, it wouldn’t be surprising to see a European club sign the young Mexican-American.


Top storylines: Mexico search, promotion/relegation, Queretaro status

Following the exit of Gerardo “Tata” Martino as coach of the Mexico men’s national team after the World Cup, a couple of the names that have regularly been thrown around as potential successors include Pachuca’s Guillermo Almada and Toluca’s Ignacio “Nacho” Ambriz. Whether it’s a candidate within the league or from outside of the country, the Mexican Football Federation (FMF) will need to make a decision soon before the return of CONCACAF Nations League matches in March.

Speaking of possible changes, the design of Mexico’s top flight will also be something to keep an eye on. After the failure of the national team to qualify for the knockout round of the World Cup, FMF president Yon de Luisa announced in early December that they would analyze potential changes regarding the number of foreign players allowed in Liga MX rosters, multi-ownership of clubs, and the current pause on promotion/relegation — but with no timetable or confirmation whether this would all happen.

For promotion and relegation, we might see a continuation of what was done in the recent past. Last spring, Liga MX and the Liga de Expansion announced that second division clubs could begin the process to be eligible for promotion, determined by a thorough check into a team’s infrastructure.

In order for promotion to Liga MX from the Liga de Expansion to return, at least four clubs needed to be approved for the 2022-23 season. Only one, Leones Negros, was approved. It remains up in the air if the same process will be used for 2023-24.

Elsewhere, Queretaro will also be interesting to follow. After grim scenes of fan riots broke out at the Estadio Corregidora last March, the club was given a one-year ban for supporters at their home ground, which is set to end after the midpoint of this season. Ownership was forced out after the violence seen in the stadium, and at time of writing, the league has continued to wait for a new group of investors to step in and buy the team.

The aftermath of the riots has also led Liga MX to implement a “Fan ID” program, which is scheduled to roll out in stages this season. All supporters who plan to attend matches will now need to register their identification online. As to how strongly this will be enforced or what impact it makes for safety, that might be something worth revisiting after the season kicks off.


Team-by-team preview (in alphabetical order)

CLUB AMERICA
Apertura 2022 regular season: 1st place, 12W-2D-3L
Playoffs: Semifinalists

No Guillermo Ochoa (transferred to Serie A’s Salernitana) leaves a noteworthy absence in net, but bringing in young goalkeeper Luis Malagon is the correct move for America’s future. With Fernando Ortiz still in charge after a run to first in the regular season, expect the most successful club in the country to once again be a title-contender.

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ATLAS
Apertura 2022 egular season: 17th place, 3W-4D-10L
Playoffs: Didn’t qualify

Currently in a rebuild, the back-to-back champions from the 2021 Apertura and 2022 Clausura completely ran out of gas last season. In the place of former head coach Diego Cocca, Atlas are now putting their hopes on Mexican manager Benjamin Mora, who recently made headlines in Asia through multiple titles in Malaysia with Johor Darul Ta’zim.

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ATLETICO SAN LUIS
Apertura 2022 regular season: 13th place, 4W-6D-7L
Playoffs: Didn’t qualify

Qualifying for the playoffs should be the minimum goal for Atletico San Luis. This winter, they’ve revamped their roster through a handful of signings that include dual-national goalkeeper David Ochoa and former Chivas forward Angel Zaldivar. Anything beyond a spot in the play-in round would be a huge triumph.

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CHIVAS
Apertura 2022 regular season: 9th place, 5W-7D-5L
Playoffs: Defeat in play-in round

At the risk of overanalyzing the 10-team preseason Copa por Mexico tournament, Chivas looked promising in their run that saw them finish in second place. In a new era under sporting director Fernando Hierro and manager Veljko Paunovic, Los Rojiblancos have already shown much-needed improvements.

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CRUZ AZUL
Apertura 2022 regular season:
7th place, 7W-3D-7L
Playoffs: Quarterfinalists

Similar to Chivas, it might be risky to dissect their successful sprint at the Copa por Mexico, but Cruz Azul’s confidence will certainly be higher after winning the preseason competition. Initially signed on as interim, head coach Raul “Potro” Gutierrez has continued his progress after salvaging the team that was once sitting at 17th in Week 10 of last season. A dark horse for the Liga MX title?

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FC JUAREZ
Regular season: 11th place, 4W-7D-6L
Playoffs: Defeat in play-in round

With a strong core of the roster remaining, and also an experienced addition through Luis “Chaka” Rodriguez, Juarez should seek to at least be quarterfinalists this season. On paper, their roster is unassumingly strong and capable of frustrating most opposition.

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LEON
Apertura 2022 regular season:
10th place, 6W-4D-7L
Playoffs: Defeat in play-in round

Things are looking promising in 2023 for Leon. They’ve landed Nicolas Larcamon as their ambitious new manager and have now made a handful of intriguing signings through Jesus Angulo, Brian Rubio, Ivan Moreno, Adonis Frias and Lucas Romero. Another dark horse candidate.

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MAZATLAN
Apertura 2022 regular season: 14th place, 3W-8D-6L
Playoffs: Didn’t qualify

Time will tell if mercurial additions like Ake Loba and Ariel Nahuelpan can help bolster Mazatlan’s toothless attack. If Mazatlan are back in the playoff conversation, it will likely be thanks to another standout tournament from their unsung hero: Goalkeeper Nicolas Vikonis.

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MONTERREY
Apertura 2022 regular season: 2nd place, 10W-5D-2L
Playoffs: Semifinalists

Jordi Cortizo and Omar Govea, and Manuel Vucetich is still at the helm, They’re coming off an encouraging 2022 despite a dismal 6-2 aggregate loss in the Apertura semis. That exit still hurts but Los Rayados have all of the right pieces (of which they have an abundance) to fight for a championship.

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NECAXA
Apertura 2022 regular season: 12th place, 5W-4D-8L
Playoffs: Defeat in play-in round

Can Necaxa be the next David in a league with no lack of Goliaths? Despite a roster overhaul that perhaps has too many changes, new manager Andres Lillini has previously made a name for himself for making his squads far greater than the sum of their parts.

PACHUCA
Apertura 2022 Regular season: 4th place, 9W-5D-3L
Playoffs: Champions

Can one of the best run teams in Mexico claim two titles in two seasons? If Almada doesn’t move to El Tri and if possible Europe-bound players like Kevin Alvarez, Luis Chavez and Erick Sanchez stick through at least the summer, Pachuca will once again be a contender.

PUEBLA
Apertura 2022 regular season: 8th place, 4W-10D-3L
Playoffs: Quarterfinalists

We’ll see what happens in a post-Larcamon era. Losing the manager alone is a heavy blow, but so will the exits of key players like Israel Reyes, Maximiliano Araujo, Jordi Cortizo and others. In a rebuild under Julio Arce, Puebla could run into serious obstacles in 2023.

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PUMAS
Apertura 2022 regular season: 16th place, 2W-8D-7L
Playoffs: Didn’t qualify

Dani Alves is staying for at least another season, but does he have the right combination of players or correct formation around him? That’ll be top priority for new manager Rafael Puente Jr. in the Clausura.

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QUERETARO
Apetura 2022 regular season: 18th place, 1W-6D-10L
Playoffs: Didn’t qualify

Things can only get better after hitting rock bottom, right? After finishing dead last in the latest Apertura season, Los Gallos Blancos could be boosted with the knowledge that fans could return to the Estadio Corregidora by mid-March. Supporters will keep their fingers crossed that they’ll have new owners by then as well.

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SANTOS LAGUNA
Apertura 2022 regular season: 3rd place, 10W-3D-4L
Playoffs: Quarterfinalists

Will Los Guerreros create the same magic without Uruguayan midfielder Fernando Gorriaran? Now at Tigres, the 28-year-old was vital with his assists and long list of deep completed passes. Looking ahead, it’s difficult to assume that manager Eduardo Fentanes and his men will once again tally 38 goals over the regular season without him.

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TIGRES
Apertura regular season: 5th place, 9W-3D-5L
Playoffs: Quarterfinalists

It’s an aging squad, but one that might have some fresh ideas with Diego Cocca stepping in as the new head coach. That said, expectations will be exceptionally high for the team that can only be rivaled by Monterrey when it comes to their amount of depth and talent.

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TIJUANA
Apertura 2022 regular season: 15th place, 4W-5D-8L
Playoffs: Didn’t qualify

Manager Ricardo Valiño is unfortunately near the top of the list of coaches who could be the first to be fired in the Clausura. Without enough reinforcements (for now) and no playoff spot last season, it’s tough to imagine Valiño will be able to make the necessary improvements in 2023.

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TOLUCA
Apetura 2022 regular season: 6th place, 7W-6D-4L
Playoffs: Finalists

Nobody should take manager Ignacio “Nacho” Ambriz or his Los Diablos Rojos squad lightly. Maxi Araujo from Puebla is a brilliant signing and one that can help elevate Toluca once again past legitimate title-contenders. Expect more resolute games from the squad that loved to hold onto the ball and outpass their opponents.

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