After a long winter break, La Primera has finally returned. The opening week doesn't have any derbies or clashes between massive superpowers, but it seems like every single game on the schedule is at least watchable, with no noticeable stinkers. Monterrey vs. San Luis and Club America vs. Pachuca should be the highlights of the week, but there's some kind of excitement factor or storyline everywhere. Let's get started:
Necaxa vs. Jaguares de Chiapas
Friday, 9 pm ET. TV: Azteca America, ESPN Deportes
Between Necaxa's tough battle against the drop and Jaguares' battle to stay in Liguilla contention after losing players in the transfer market, this game has plenty of intrigue. It's the beginning of life without Danilinho and Carlos Ochoa for Jaguares, so the pressure will be on Jackson Martinez and Jorge Rodriguez to step up their games. Necaxa have an amazing seven new players, and it will be interesting to see how many of those players step onto the field tonight and how much of an impact they make. The most interesting matchup in this one might be Necaxa's new wide players, Luis Alonso Sandoval and Jose Antonio Castro, if either of them plays, against the talented fullbacks of Jaguares.
Cruz Azul vs. Estudiantes Tecos
Saturday, 6 pm ET. TV: Azteca America, Fox Deportes
If Cruz Azul are partially awake for this one, it should probably be a walkover. If you missed it, in my preview of the relegation battlers, I predicted that Tecos would only come away from this season with 12 points. If any of those 12 happens at Estadio Azul, it would be a shock, to say the very least. Cruz Azul are essentially the same team as last year, plus a couple of new squad players and Waldo Ponce replacing Joel Huiqui. It shouldn't be a difficult task for La Maquina Celeste to come away with all three points.
Queretaro vs. Tigres de la UANL
Saturday, 6 pm ET. TV: Telefutura
Queretaro are another team in a relegation battle, and they have a tough opening to their season against Tigres, a team who disappointed last season and reacted by buying big in the transfer window. Los Gallos Blancos lost top scorer Sergio Blanco in the transfer window, so it will be interesting to see if Carlos Bueno does an adequate job of replacing his production. This game will almost certainly see the debut of Danilinho and Hector Mancilla for Tigres, and hopefully for American fans, Jonathan Bornstein will make his debut as well. Queretaro are a decent team that caused a bit of trouble for some bigger sides last year, but their defense is likely to struggle against all of Tigres' weapons.
Monterrey vs. San Luis
Saturday, 6 pm ET. TV: Telemundo
The transfer window in Mexico was a busy one, but not for these two sides. Monterrey and San Luis are relatively unchanged, and really, there was no reason for either team to stock up. They both had very good seasons, with San Luis unexpectedly making Liguilla (and Copa Libertadores) comfortably, while Monterrey finished second in the regular season and went on to win the title. San Luis might have over-achieved a bit in the last campaign, and I don't like them to make the same run this year. In the context of this game, specifically, Monterrey should just be too good at home.
Santos Laguna vs. Atlante
Saturday, 8 pm ET. TV: Telefutura
Like Cruz Azul vs. Tecos, this is another matchup between a title contender and a relegation battler. Atlante will have a struggle to stay up, especially after failing to improve their team significantly in the offseason, while Santos look primed to compete for a title once again. Though they're becoming the new school Cruz Azul, having lost the last two consecutive finals, there's no reason to believe that they won't be up near the top again. I doubt that Atlante is going to pose much of a challenge to Cristian Benitez and co. at Estadio Corona, and the hosts should win easily.
Atlas vs. Monarcas Morelia
Saturday, 9:45 ET. TV: Galavision
Last season, you could not have paid me enough money to watch Atlas and Morelia. This season, Atlas have a bit more intrigue to them. I'm very interested to see what this new look Atlas team can do. They were atrocious in the Apertura, but I've got a feeling (oooh, oooh), that they have an excellent chance to nick 20 points or more and get themselves out of relegation trouble. Between Morelia playing generally crappy football and Atlas adding Miguel Pinto and Wilman Conde, Morelia are going to find it difficult to score unless Miguel Sabah goes nuts. It's tough to figure out exactly where Atlas will find the goals, but they're a deep team after their spending spree, so it seems like one of their many forwards will figure it out.
Puebla vs. Chivas de Guadalajara
Sunday, 1 pm ET. TV: Azteca America
Despite disappointing in the Apertura, Chivas have elected not to strengthen their squad in the transfer window and instead hope that their existing players step up their games. Omar Arellano and Bofo Bautista, in particular, played below their caliber in the last tournament and should be able to produce quite a bit more. An away match at Puebla should be a solid litmus test for the Goats. Puebla aren't a juggernaut, but they're a respectable side who are closer to Liguilla than the drop. Their defense is shaky, though, and it could be a good game for Arellano and Bautista to get back onto the score sheet.
Toluca vs. Pumas de la UNAM
Sunday, 1 pn ET. TV: Telemundo
With manager Chepo de la Torre and striker Hector Mancilla out the door, Toluca seem to be a team in transition, a long way from their Bicentenario championship. Jaime Ayovi is significantly younger than Mancilla, though, and the new signing up top could prove to be a bargain. Pumas, like Chivas, didn't make changes in the offseason and instead are hoping that some youngsters step up. Both of these teams are Liguilla contenders, but I think they might both be fringe Liguilla contenders. Pumas' defense was poor last season, though, and they should be much better. It will be interesting to watch them against Ayovi and the aging Toluca captain, Zinha.
Club America vs. Pachuca
Sunday, 5 pm ET. TV: Univision
Possibly the most entertaining game of the week gets the star treatment, primetime on Sunday and the last game of the week. Pachuca have lost Dario Cvitanich and Damian Manso in the transfer window, but Yulian Anchico is expected to be an adequate replacement for the latter player. As for the former, Pachuca had great depth at striker last season, so they should be fine if Franco Arizala and Herculez Gomez step up their games a little bit. America didn't make any significant changes in the offseason, and they didn't need to. They finished fourth and won Group Two, and should be securely into Liguilla again this season. The matchup to watch in this one will be between the midfield groups, which have arguably the most interesting players on each team. Daniel Montenegro and Jose Francisco Torres might butt heads more than a couple of times.
Necaxa 1-1 Jaguares
Cruz Azul 3-0 Tecos
Queretaro 1-2 Tigres
Monterrey 3-1 San Luis
Santos 3-0 Atlante
Atlas 1-1 Morelia
Puebla 0-1 Chivas
Toluca 1-2 Pumas
America 2-1 Pachuca