American Exports preview: New league, new start in Mexico
GUADALAJARA, Mexico – The rebranded Mexican league kicks off Friday with a big season ahead for Yanks down south.
The first division in Mexico is now known as the Liga MX, while the second division is the Ascenso MX and a cup competition – the Copa MX – will be played midweek.
Nomenclature aside, there will be a lot of matches involving Americans over the coming months, with a good number hoping to force their way into the national team for that US vs. Mexico friendly in Mexico City on August 15 and then World Cup qualifying.
Here's a rundown of what we can expect from Yanks down south this season in Mexico:
José Torres' Pachuca have been the main player in the transfer market in Mexico this summer, bringing in a host of expensive names and leaving question marks around the Texan's role in new head coach Hugo Sánchez's project.
Fears that he may be shunted out have been quelled by Sánchez's starting “el Gringo” throughout the preseason, and Torres looks set to be given the chance to make a central midfield spot his own.
There is a huge opportunity this season for the 24-year-old to become the fulcrum of the new-look Tuzos side and show USMNT head coach Jurgen Klinsmann why he deserves to be used in his preferred central midfield role.
While Pachuca have spent big in order to mount a challenge for the title, current champions Santos Laguna has only added a couple of players to an already deep squad.
That means prolific goal scorer Herculez Gomez embarks on his sixth tournament in Mexico fighting for his starting place against the likes of Christian Suárez, Candido Ramírez, Gerardo Lugo and Darwin Quintero.
US international Gomez's ability to play anywhere along Santos' three-man front-line will be to his advantage, as is the fact striker Oribe Peralta is currently away with the Mexico team at the Olympics.
Gomez's World Cup 2010 teammate DaMarcus Beasley was widely tipped to leave strugglers Puebla in the offseason, but looks set to remain.
A lot is expected of the 30-year-old winger, with Beasley now established as one of Puebla's main players. A big season is required if he wants to edge closer to those elusive 100 caps for the United States national team.
However, the former Chicago Fire man has been struggling with tendinitis in recent weeks, according to Puebla, and has missed the club's preseason friendlies, making him a doubt for the start of the campaign.
Just over the border in Tijuana, the Xolos' band of Gringos – Joe Corona, Alejandro Guido, Edgar Castillo and Greg Garza – has been getting preseason minutes and the club again looks set to steal the limelight for Americans down south.
Corona and Castillo have the challenge of maintaining their form and starting places with Club Tijuana to cement their spots in the US squad, while Garza and Guido will seek to horde as many minutes as possible with the first team, in either the Liga MX or the Copa MX.
Michael Orozco Fiscal's San Luis were sold over the summer, but the former Philadelphia Union center back's team will likely struggle again this season, with only a handful of new signings brought in.
Nevertheless, Orozco Fiscal has been starting preseason games and should start the season as first choice for the Gladiadores.
Jonathan Bornstein's Tigres UANL should be challenging for the title again, but it will be an uphill struggle for the 27-year-old to become an integral part of that process.
Bornstein has seen minutes in preseason and is more confident than he was last season of getting some playing time in the Liga MX. If not, the CONCACAF Champions League beckons.
Rounding off the Liga MX preview is former MLSer Jesús Padilla, who has returned to CD Guadalajara from second-division La Piedad and will be part of the club's first-team squad. Padilla has been impressed with the Johan Cruyff-led changes at the club, but may struggle for playing time with others seemingly ahead of him in the pecking order.
Of the Under-20 group of Americans down south, Daniel Cuevas (Santos), Benji Joya (Santos), Julio César Morales (Chivas), Victor Garza (Tigres), Juan Pablo Ocegueda (Tigres), Stevie Rodriguez (Tijuana), Ernest Nungaray (Morelia) and Ventura Alvarado (Club América) will all be hoping that they can make the leap into first teams over the coming months.
Marco Vidal moved from recently promoted Club León to last season's beaten finalists Lobos BUAP, where he will be hoping for the regular playing time that wasn't forthcoming during his last season with the Panzas Verdes.
On Mexico's east coast, Sonny Guadarrama and Isaac Acuña could form part of the forward line for Club Mérida, while Adrian Ruelas was loaned out by Santos Laguna to the Tiburones Rojos de Veracruz.
Young forward Alexandre González at Necaxa is also due to be part of that first team squad this season.
Tom Marshall covers Americans playing in Latin America for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.