Week 4 of the 2023 Clausura in Liga MX is in the books, and it had a bit of everything: a big, controversial transfer from Europe, a redemption arc for powerhouse club that had been off to a slow start, the first coach firing of the season, a new No. 1 on the table, and much more.
There's plenty to cover from the latest jornada (match week), so in case you missed anything, here are three talking points and a few additional observations from Week 4 of the Liga MX season.
- Liga MX standings | Liga MX coverage on ESPN Deportes
- Futbol Americas on ESPN+: Liga MX, MLS, USMNT, El Tri
Lainez the latest Mexico star to leave Europe for Liga MX with Tigres
While there isn't much to say about Tigres' 0-0 draw at home against Atletico San Luis over the weekend, there has been no lack of conversation regarding their latest addition: 22-year-old Mexican winger Diego Lainez. According to reports, Tigres have brought the player on loan from LaLiga's Real Betis, with an option to buy his contract for $7 million.
"I've known [Tigres president] Mauricio Culebro for a long time, the interest has always been there since I practically left for Europe and I'm very happy to have arrived," Lainez said Sunday, confirming rumors he was heading to the Liga MX team. Before his move to Tigres, he had been on loan with Braga in Portugal.
The move has drawn praise from Tigres' fan base but questions from Mexico fans who wanted to see the young star stick around Europe. For those against transfer, they see Tigres as high spenders that either prevent promising domestic players from moving abroad or, as in the case of Lainez, bring them back to Liga MX in lieu of other opportunities.
However, Tigres were willing to take a chance on a player who has yet to establish himself as a consistent starter, and who couldn't earn a spot on Mexico's roster for the 2022 World Cup -- a chance European clubs may have been hesitant to take. Backed by the big wallet of construction giant and club owner Cemex, Tigres are reportedly looking to spend as much as $7 million for his contract, an eye-catching figure in line with what has become the norm in an inflated transfer market in Mexico for domestic players.
In defense of the Tigres -- and other Liga MX teams with deep pockets that make similar decisions -- moves like the one for Lainez strengthen Mexico's top flight. Critics often forget or ignore that the Nuevo Leon-based club's big moves have helped grow Liga MX's recognition on the global stage as finalists in the 2015 Copa Libertadores and as runners-up in the 2020 Club World Cup. In that Club World Cup, it shouldn't be overlooked that Tigres put up a fight and narrowly lost 1-0 to UEFA Champions League winners Bayern Munich.
That said, it's still understandable that some are frustrated by the side effects of Liga MX's transfer market, which keeps Mexican talent in Mexico instead of reaching another level in Europe.
Club America rebound with 6-goal romp, Mazatlan fire first coach of season
As is regularly the case in Mexican soccer, fans and media have a penchant for bringing up the word "crisis" when a high-profile team struggles after only a few games. This year, rumblings of possible trouble for Club America emerged when the 13-time champions went winless in their first three matches of the Clausura.
By the end of the Saturday game against last-place Mazatlan, however, such proclamations of a crisis looked unfounded. In response to these worries, Club America scored a handful of goals at home at the Estadio Azteca, finishing with a dominant 6-0 victory that was resounding enough to lead to the firing of Mazatlan manager Gabriel Caballero. Coming just four weeks into the Clausura, Caballero's firing is the first of the season.
Carried by a hat trick by Mexican national team striker Henry Martin, Las Aguilas recorded their biggest Liga MX win since their 7-0 thrashing of Cruz Azul last August.
¡Gooooooooooool del @clubamerica! 🔥😳— TUDN USA (@TUDNUSA) January 29, 2023
Henry hace su hat-trick y el sexto de las Águilas. ¡6oleada de escándalo! 🔥
🦅 6-0 ⚓#TUClausura2023 | #SábadoFutbolero | #SomosAmérica | #ARREbatando
🔴 EN VIVO
📺 TUDN y @univision
📱👉 https://t.co/vg5dqNO3K7 pic.twitter.com/h5Hgy6U9N0
"The locker room was never bad, the locker room was always fine," Club America coach Fernando Ortiz said after the win when asked about supposed issues growing for the roster.
Impressive displays for Nestor Araujo, Richard Sanchez, Diego Valdes, Jonathan Rodriguez and dual-national Alejandro Zendejas were also worth noting -- especially for Zendejas after making the quick trip back Wednesday from his U.S. men's national team debut.
Despite a narrow 2-1 loss to Serbia, Zendejas was energetic and exciting for the USMNT last week in Los Angeles, and he was again for Club America on Saturday. The 24-year-old hasn't committed to either the United States or Mexico (who were fined this month for utilizing the player that had yet to file a one-time switch from the U.S.), but he remains on the rise for club and country with his revived form that has made him one of the top players in Liga MX.
With Zendejas and others bouncing back in Week 4, could a run toward a 14th title for Club America follow?
Pachuca take back top spot in Liga MX table
Even without Nicolas Ibañez, the league-leading goal scorer from the previous Apertura season, current titleholders Pachuca have continued to thrive.
In their third game since the striker's departure, Los Tuzos pummeled Necaxa with 25 shots in a 2-1 win at home, constantly testing opposing goalkeeper Hugo Gonzalez. The close scoreline was slightly misleading as well. It wasn't until the 99th minute that Necaxa found their lone goal off a penalty, eventually finishing the game with just three shots on target in comparison to Pachuca's 12.
While there's nothing too surprising about current champions looking strong in a new season, Los Tuzos' faith in academy talent makes them stand out among other high spending clubs in Liga MX. In the place of Ibañez, 23-year-old Pachuca product and forward Roberto de la Rosa took over the starting spot with ease. That's part of a bigger trend within Pachuca: a total of seven players in the starting roster for their latest victory have spent time in their academy system.
Even in a modern era of Mexican soccer that has seen clubs willing to spend exorbitant amounts for domestic players, Pachuca have carved their own successful path by producing and elevating their own talent.
"The reality is, and I insist, we're satisfied with the squad, they're working very well," manager Guillermo Almada said about possible reinforcements after the result. "We must support the young players, so we're fine for the rest of the tournament."
- Elsewhere in Week 4: Atlas bounced back from an early deficit in a 2-2 draw with Santos Laguna, Monterrey scored two second half goals in a 2-1 away win over Puebla, Club Tijuana failed to capitalize on a one-man advantage in a 0-0 draw at home with Pumas, Chivas needed just two shots on target for a 2-1 away victory over FC Juarez, and nine-man Leon held Toluca to a 0-0 draw. Queretaro and Cruz Azul's Week 4 match has been postponed until March 29.
- CONCACAF and CONMEBOL announced a new partnership, which included the announcement that the U.S. will host the 2024 men's Copa America and South American teams will be invited to compete in the women's CONCACAF W Gold Cup tournament next year. In addition, a "final four" club competition in 2024 will involve two men's teams from each confederation.
- And to close things out, let's check in on former Tigres and Mexico manager Ricardo "Tuca" Ferretti. The Brazilian coach called ESPN's Alvaro Morales during an episode of "Futbol Picante" last week to claim that Miguel "Piojo" Herrera wouldn't get the gig as the next manager for Mexico's men's national team, without realizing he was live on air.
"Alvaro, are you on television?" asked the bewildered ex-coach during his accidental live appearance, thinking the episode he was watching was from the night before.