Another weekend of Liga MX is now behind us, and the 2023 Clausura is already offering plenty of drama after just two weeks.
First-place Tigres crushed current title-holders Pachuca (and took their best striker), former Club America backup Oscar Jimenez continued to seize his moment after years in the waiting, Atlas’ new manager secured three points in his first game, and a possible move could bring promotion back to Liga MX soon.
With another game still left on Monday night between Leon and Necaxa, here are three talking points from last week’s action in the Clausura, and a few additional observations.
– Liga MX standings | Liga MX coverage on ESPN Deportes
– Futbol Americas on ESPN+: Liga MX, MLS, USMNT, El Tri
Tigres take top spot in Liga — and top striker from Pachuca
It’s one thing to earn a convincing 4-1 victory over current title-holders Pachuca, and it’s another to also do so after taking their leading No. 9 during the same weekend as well.
On Sunday, Tigres did just that following a report from ESPN MX on Saturday that Pachuca’s Nicolas Ibañez — last season’s leading goal scorer in Liga MX — would join the Nuevo Leon powerhouse. With the deal set in motion, there was a very noticeable Ibañez-shaped hole in Pachuca’s starting XI in their lopsided loss to Tigres.
At a packed Estadio Universitario, which was once again hosting peculiar Tigres superfan Rob Schneider, the home side bounced back against an early goal from Pachuca, last season’s champions, eventually scoring three unanswered goals in second half to cement the 4-1 Tigres victory.
— Club Tigres Oficial 🐯 (@TigresOficial) January 16, 2023
It’s still early in the Liga MX season, but Tigres looked the part of the first-place team on Sunday: Winger Luis Quiñones was brilliant going forward with his two goals, midfielder Fernando Gorriaran looked like the man of the match through his control of the game, and striker Andre-Pierre Gignac was typically assertive with a goal and assist — all while still waiting to incorporate Ibañez, the best striker last season.
It’s far too early to make serious bets on who will win the next title, but after Tigres pummeled last season’s champions, moved up to first in the table with consecutive wins, and made their squad even stronger, manager Diego Cocca and his men are making the most persuasive argument.
¡𝗚𝗢𝗢𝗢𝗢𝗢𝗢𝗢𝗟 𝗗𝗘 𝗧𝗜𝗚𝗥𝗘𝗦! 𝗤𝗨𝗜Ñ𝗢𝗢𝗢𝗢𝗢𝗡𝗘𝗦 𝗫𝟮
HUUUUGE NIGHT FOR LUIS, GREAT ASSIST FROM APG 🥳🥳🥳🥳
— TUDN USA (@TUDNUSA) January 16, 2023
Long a backup, Jimenez finally stands tall in Club America’s net
It might be an understatement to say that Club America goalkeeper Oscar Jimenez has patiently waited for his opportunity.
Before 2023, the 34-year-old was a perennial backup, earning just 13 appearances and a gargantuan total of 211 games on America’s bench since 2016. Now, he’s become the leading figure for Las Aguilas in the Clausura.
Jimenez earned a shutout in a 0-0 draw against Queretaro in Week 1, and despite allowing a couple of goals in Week 2 against Toluca, the goalkeeper was highly impressive with his 10 saves that kept Club America alive in Saturday’s 2-2 away result.
Even with up-and-coming goalkeeper Luis Malagon brought in during the winter as an expected substitute for former captain and Mexican icon Guillermo Ochoa — who is now in Italy’s Serie A with Salernitana — Jimenez has seized his opportunity, and he’s protected it as well as he’s protected his own net.
That is good news for a Club America side that has looked sluggish in the new year. Were it not for Jimenez, Las Aguilas could have done far worse in the opening two weeks of the season. Club America’s attack improved significantly by Week 2 against Toluca, but defensively, they needed Jimenez to make a few highlight-worthy stops. Despite this, manager Fernando Ortiz remained assured that progress is being made.
“It wasn’t the way we wanted in Week 1, but today I’m leaving with a much better image of the way we want to play,” Ortiz said in the post-game press conference. “Hopefully we can have a much better game in the upcoming weekend at home with our fans.”
— Club América (@ClubAmerica) January 15, 2023
Atlas earn first win in Liga MX managerial debut for Mora
In the Mexican soccer scene, there’s nothing odd or unusual about most of Benjamin Mora’s modest and unassuming resume.
He was born in Mexico City, quietly roamed around the country for low-key work as an assistant coach in different levels of the sport, including youth academies, and then in late 2015 he made the unexpected choice to head to Malaysia and coach the reserve side for Johor Darul Ta’zim Football Club. A chance to manage their senior side in Malaysia eventually emerged in 2017, and he would go on to make a name for himself in Asia through a handful of league and cup titles.
By late 2022, Liga MX’s Atlas took notice of the nomadic coach and caught many fans and pundits off-guard by hiring him for the Clausura tournament. To quote ESPN’s own Rafael Ramos about the managerial decision that was made in October of last year: “Benjamin Mora was, until this Wednesday, unknown to almost all of Mexican soccer. Today he is the new coach of Atlas.”
That obscurity had no impact on Thursday in his Liga MX managerial debut, which finished in a 2-1 victory at home over Mazatlan. Despite the opposition making things difficult near the end, Atlas and Mora were the deserved winners that thrived off of game-changing performances from Julian Quiñones, Julio Furch and 21-year-old prospect Jonathan Ozziel Herrera.
Mora’s response after his first-ever Liga MX win?
“I will never be satisfied, we always want more,” said the new Atlas manager. “I think we can give much more and play even better.”
– Elsewhere in Week 2: 10-man Atletico San Luis held Chivas to a 0-0 draw, Queretaro remained winless after a 2-0 loss to Puebla, Rogelio Funes Mori scored and defeated his twin brother Ramiro Funes Mori in a 3-2 away win for Monterrey over Cruz Azul, a brace from Dario Lezcano led FC Juarez to a painless 3-0 result against Club Tijuana, and 21-year-old Diego Medina scored twice for Santos Laguna in a 3-0 win over Pumas.
– Week 2 will wrap-up with Leon vs. Necaxa on Monday. The match is set to be a goodbye to club legend and captain Luis Montes, who helped Leon win three Liga MX titles since 2013.
– Mexican soccer appears to be moving closer to reinstating promotion/relegation after it was suspended in 2020. On Friday, Mexico’s second-division Liga de Expansion and Liga MX president Mikel Arriola announced that clubs can now apply to be eligible for promotion during the 2023-24 season. The latest rule states that at least four clubs from the second division need to be approved for promotion to return for 2023-24. The leagues say that only Leones Negros are approved, while adding that a possible “green light” for more approved second-division clubs could be announced in May.
– Cruz Azul’s Julio “Cata” Dominguez will reportedly have a three-match ban and a fine for an incident regarding a Narcos-themed birthday party for his son earlier this month. Dominguez already served two of his three suspensions after missing out in Week 1 and Week 2.