America looking to repeat and more: 18 things to watch in the Liga MX Clausura

Club America
With the Clausura beginning Friday, Goal provides one thing to watch for each day of the brief offseason since America lifted the Apertura trophy

  1. Will regular season champ win the league?

    #1 Will regular season champ win the league?

    Not since the 2014 Apertura, when America topped the table and went on to beat Tigres in the final, has the team that finished the regular season first lifted the trophy at the end of the playoffs.

    Of course, no No. 6 team ever has won the crown. Here's to a weird season of Liga MX - one that gives us plenty to talk about and maybe even breaks some trends.

  2. Is Furch ready to repeat the feat?
    Hector Vivas

    #2 Is Furch ready to repeat the feat?

    Last tournament, Santos Laguna shipped out its top scorer and soon found it needed no replacement. Djaniny went to Saudi Arabia, but Santos scored in every regular season match. Much of that was thanks to Julio Furch, who found the back of the net a dozen times.

    This offseason, Santos once again has sold a forward, with Jonathan Rodriguez heading to Cruz Azul. Rodriguez didn't have as many goals as Furch but often played a part in the build-up as Furch's running mate. It'll be a big task for Furch to still find the same number of goals.

  3. What exactly is Queretaro doing?
    ROCIO VAZQUEZ/AFP/Getty Images

    #3 What exactly is Queretaro doing?

    Fresh off an eyebrow-raising campaign with a new coach and several young players, Querataro has blow it all up?

    The Gallos Blancos seemed positioned for another run to the Liguilla but have loaned out goalkeeper Tiago Volpi, sold center back Hiram Mier to Chivas and moved around several youth players. Marcel Ruiz is still with the club at time of writing, as is midifelder Javier Guemez, but the directors haven't done coach Rafa Puente Jr. any favors in the market.

  4. What’s Alvarez’s role with America?

    #4 What’s Alvarez’s role with America?

    Edson Alvarez played mostly as a center back with Club America during the Apertura - though there were stretches during the season during which he didn't play at all.

    However, his performance in the playoffs in the midfield, specifically the two goals he scored in the second leg of the final to give America the title, seem to be evidence that he could make more of an impact in the midfield. Miguel Herrera has tried to put Mateus Uribe in a more advanced role before to mixed results, and you wouldn't expect a player of Guido Rodriguez's caliber to be benched after having one of the best individual campaigns of 2018. Yet, getting the talented young El Tri player into the starting XI should benefit both him and the club.

  5. Who will be the best offseason signing?
    Amilcar Orfali

    #5 Who will be the best offseason signing?

    Every tournament, a player comes in from outside Mexico without much fanfare but changes the course of the season. Ivan Marcone did it with Cruz Azul in the Apertura.

    Who will be that player this year? It hasn't been a winter full of 'bombas' but Monterrey's signing of Maximiliano Meza, Toluca's move for Emmanuel Gigliotti or Atlas' gambles on Jorge Segura could fit the bill.

  6. Is a Red Devil redemption coming?
    Hector Vivas

    #6 Is a Red Devil redemption coming?

    Toluca finished seventh in the regular season table and promptly was bounced from the playoffs. Rubens Sambueza led an exodus of players this offseason with Luis Quiniones, Alexis Vega and Amaury Escoto joining him in leaving after several seasons with the Red Devils.

    Hernan Cristante has been a pragmatic manager, so getting Leonel Lopez back from Leon and keeping Cristian Borja may hint at a club that will rely on its strength in the middle. Seeing them back in the mix for titles would be surprise, but Cristante has done it before.

  7. How will Pareja adapt to life in Mexico?

    #7 How will Pareja adapt to life in Mexico?

    Oscar Pareja left FC Dallas this winter to take over at Club Tijuana, a fascinating pairing that Grupo Caliente hopes yields big results.

    It may take some time. Pareja is known for youth development, and while Xolos have a deep academy the cupboard was left a bit bare by Pareja's predecessors as far as players who can contribute right now. He's a savvy coach, but he'll need to adjust quickly to get better results out of a largely unchanged side.

  8. If Rayados stay fit, are they a title contender?
    Manuel Guadarrama

    #8 If Rayados stay fit, are they a title contender?

    It was a pretty incredible season for Monterrey considering they pretty much never had a fully healthy attack and also had to make modifications at the back. The lack of fitness made it tough for Diego Alonso to put his style in place in La Sultana del Norte, and even so the club still got to the Copa MX final and made the semifinals of the playoffs.

    If the rash of injuries that hit the team in the Apertura can be avoided this season, we could be looking at a team that is right back in the mix for its first title since the 2010 Apertura.

  9. How will VAR continue to evolve?

    #9 How will VAR continue to evolve?

    The implementation of the technology that has proved effective in most leagues around the world got off to a strange start in Liga MX. Some referees seemed reluctant to rely on VAR, while others utilized it and still came away with puzzling decisions.

    With training and real-life implementation now complete, hopefully the officials will be able to emulate their Serie A or MLS counterparts who have helped the game improve with their judicious use of replay.

  10. Will a new goalscorer emerge?
    Rodrigo Arangua

    #10 Will a new goalscorer emerge?

    We've seen a lot of the same names atop the scoring charts the last several years (Gignac, Furch, Boselli), especially among Mexicans (Oribe...OK, pretty much just Oribe).

    While Victor Guzman had a good showing this year, and Alexis Vega's move to Chivas could boost his chances to get back into the upper echelons, the league could use fresh faces putting the ball in the back of the net.

  11. Can Tigres get younger?
    Azael Rodriguez

    #11 Can Tigres get younger?

    Tigres seemed to be treading water in the Apertura and the after-burners that so often boosted them late in tournaments never really came. Rather than looking fearsome in the tournament, Tigres started to just look old.

    Juninho has retired and Ismael Sosa made way as well. Re-signing Andre-Pierre Gignac is good business no matter how old the Frenchman may be, but young players from Tigres' standout U-20 team need to start pulling their weight. Julian Quinones' continued excellence is a good sign for manager Tuca Ferretti.

  12. Will Tuzos change course?

    #12 Will Tuzos change course?

    Pachuca will remain a club known for youth development but after selling Hirving Lozano and Erick Gutierrez and listening to offers for Victor Guzman, the team needs to focus on the on-field product as well.

    Last season was a disappointment under Pako Ayestaran, and the club responded by bringing in foreign imports with knowledge of the league. Former Monterrey midfielder Edwin Cardona and ex-Necaxa attacker Victor Davila are nice pieces. If they can't get Tuzos back into the playoffs, though, it'll be the end of the Ayestaran era and perhaps a return to giving the players from the cantera priority roles.

  13.  Did Chivas do enough to compete?
    Refugio Ruiz

    #13 Did Chivas do enough to compete?

    The Club World Cup was an embarrassment for the storied Guadalajara side, but really much of life since the league-cup double has been cringe-worthy for the club's fans.

    This offseason, the team opened the wallet once again but the resources only go so far. Still, signing forward Alexis Vega, midfielder Jesus Molina and center back Hiram Mier is a step in the right direction - as are extensions for winger "La Chofis" Lopez, center back Jair Pereira and forward Alan Pulido. Still, the team looks more like a playoff contender than one fighting for the title unless manager Jose Cardozo can get more than expected out of his squad.

  14. Could Lobos' bounce-back be for real?
    Azael Rodriguez

    #14 Could Lobos' bounce-back be for real?

    Toward the end of the season, Lobos BUAP made a surprising surge up the table. The club should have been relegated in the spring of 2018 but stayed in the first division thanks to some 'only in Liga MX circumstances' - and no small quantity of money.

    Leonardo Ramos remains after his eight goals last tournament, while Paco Palencia is doubling-down on his strategy of bringing in veteran defenders by signing Leiton Jimenez. If it pays off, Lobos can stay in Liga MX by conventional means this time around.

  15. Is the future now for Leon?
    Refugio Rivas

    #15 Is the future now for Leon?

    The Mauro Boselli era is over in Guanajuato. Let the Jose Juan Macias era begin. Many of the players who helped Leon become a fixture in the Liguilla already have gone, and with Boselli headed to Brazil it's now time to look to the future. Macias, the forward brought in from Chivas, will be a key piece in Nacho Ambriz's squad.

    Yet, Ambriz also has reunited with former America and Toluca veteran Rubens Sambueza, hinting that he isn't totally ready for a youth movement to sweep over the club. Whatever he does, he needs to make La Fiera relevant once again.

  16. Can Pumas win by making zero changes?
    Hector Vivas

    #16 Can Pumas win by making zero changes?

    David Patino has kept the gang together this winter, with the only signings made during the offseason those of Felipe Mora and Martin Rodriguez. The ex-Cruz Azul players already spent last tournament on loan with Los Felinos. However, Matias Alustiza is the only notable departure - returning to Atlas after his loan.

    It's a bold strategy in a league that has seen so many new signings make a difference in a short period of time. Pumas are convinced, though, that they had just what they needed to win the league.

  17. Cruz Azul’s spending continues - will the winning?

    #17 Cruz Azul’s spending continues - will the winning?

    La Maquina rolled to the final but were unable to end their title drought - which now is old enough to legally drink alcohol in the United States. After spending big in the offseason, the team continued to make additions, with Orbelin Pineda, Yoshi Yotun and Jonathan Rodriguez joining the club in the winter window.

    Now the question is whether manager Pedro Caixinha can keep the team playing at a high level - and if they can take the one additional step and finally win a title once again.

  18.  Does America have what it takes to repeat?

    #18 Does America have what it takes to repeat?

    Las Aguilas flew high in the Apertura and ended up winning the title. Just two teams have been 'bicampeones' in the short-season era, so America has its work cut out to match Pumas and Leon.

    While Bruno Valdez's set-piece goals put America in a good place, the team needs more production from the players it's actually paying to score goals. What happens with teenage star Diego Lainez this winter will go a long way in determining how the team approaches the Clausura. Either way, midfielder Guido Rodriguez and Mateus Uribe should set the tone and once again make it tough for opponents to find goals.