Europe's big leagues don't return to action for another month, but in Mexico, they're getting right back to it just a week after the end of the World Cup. The Liga MX Apertura kicks off on Friday and will run until mid-November. Watching Liga MX might be a bit shocking at first for those used to the precision and organization of the English Premier League, but it's always worthwhile viewing. It's that unique.
Here's everything you need to know to get the most out of your Liga MX viewing experience.
Each of the 18 teams play each other once before the top eight go into a playoff called the 'Liguilla' with home and away legs in each round.
The defending champions are Leon, whose stars Carlos Peña, Rafael Marquez and Jose Vazquez played for Mexico at the World Cup. They're among the favorites again, but Liga MX is much less stable than leagues in Europe, and even MLS. Big teams with great squads fall apart and miss the playoffs on a pretty regular basis.
Lots of goals, and the goals are really good
This league is very high scoring, and you'll see one of the best goals you've ever seen in your life on a weekly basis. If a regular viewer of Liga MX had to sum up the style of play in the league in three words, they would be "people try shit."
It's really easy to find on TV
Availability for Liga MX games on American TV might be better than MLS and EPL nationwide, and it's certainly better in markets with very large Spanish-speaking populations and multiple Spanish channels. All games can be found on one of Univision, Univision Deportes, ESPN Deportes, Telemundo or Azteca America. Occasionally, you can find games in English on ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN News and Mun2.
Your favorite announcers
You know all those TV commercials you see with Andres Cantor, the guy with the really long GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOL? All the great World Cup calls you heard from Pablo Ramirez, the guy who does the shorter GOL, GOL, GOL? You can catch them year round calling Liga MX action. Cantor is on Telemundo, and Ramirez is on Univision.
The owners are giant conglomerates and alleged criminals
In most countries, very rich people own clubs. In Mexico, large corporations own lots of the clubs. Groupo Carso -- Carlos Slim's company -- and Televisa are the two biggest owners. They've been in an arms race over the past few seasons. Grupo Salinas, another TV company, is also involved. Televisa and Salinas don't have Carlos Slim money, but they can be complete assholes about who gets on TV and will not hesitate to show the away games of Slim's team on tape delay -- or not at all -- if they want.
Chivas is owned by Jorge Vergara, who you may know from discrimination lawsuits and his time spent running MLS club Chivas USA into the ground. And then there's Tijuana, who are owned by Jorge Hank Rhon, a businessman and politician who has been accused of being involved with organized crime. When his home was searched in 2011, police found 88 firearms.
Sadly, the former beer arms race is dead, thanks to the sale of Mexico's biggest beer companies to giant brewing conglomerates. When Grupo Modelo was purchased by InBev, they sold Santos Laguna. Monterrey is still owned by FEMSA, the former parent company of Cerveceria Cuauhtemoic Moctezuma, but their beer operations have been sold to Heineken. We'll never forget the beer wars.
The league structure is a shitshow
Not only do big corporations own teams, they can own multiple teams. There have been strong grumblings about multiple ownership eventually going by the wayside, but it's not a reality yet. Carso owns Pachuca and Leon, Salinas owns Morelia and Atlas, and Televisa owns America and a former top flight club that has been relegated, Necaxa. This makes two ownership groups more powerful than the rest at present, and if Carso and Salinas both want something, they're probably going to be able to get it at owners meetings.
Liga MX also doesn't have a president or commissioner like a Roger Goodell or Richard Scudamore to get everyone to play nice. All the owners have to sort the rules out for themselves, which rarely goes well. It leads to rules changing seemingly at random every season, as well as lots of fights, relocations and clubs going out of business.
This leads to an amazing thing called the "draft"
The Liga MX draft is nothing like the drafts in American sports, where teams select young players who haven't signed with professional teams yet. The thing that's called the draft in Liga MX is more like the MLB winter meetings. The owners all sit in a big room together for a day and negotiate player swaps, sales, and probably plenty of shady under the radar stuff in which a player is "free transferred" but the owner signing that player has to do some kind of favor for the owner of his previous club.
Signings of foreign-based players happen throughout the transfer window, but virtually all transactions between two Liga MX clubs are finalized on one day during each transfer period.
There are huge brawls
This is Cruz Azul and Mexico goalkeeper Jose Corona headbutting a coach, then "Chaco" Christian Gimenez fighting a fan.
Everyone has a nickname
I just had to look up Chaco Gimenez's real first name. I genuinely couldn't remember it. Same goes for "Hobbit" Christian Bermudez, "El Turco" Antonio Mohamed, "Chupete" Humberto Suazo, "Chaton" Jorge Enriquez, and so on. There are dozens of these guys, and the announcers always call them by their nicknames. You're unlikely to hear the names "Christian Bermudez" or "Christian Gimenez" once on a Liga MX broadcast this season.
Odd players you won't see in other leagues
If you watched Mexico or MLS in the last decade, you might remember a guy named Cuauhtémoc Blanco. He's a Club America and Mexico legend that played for the Chicago Fire from 2007 to 2009, seemingly, at the time, to end his career. Instead, he's bounced around the Mexican second division since then, and got a pretty sweet testimonial retirement match with Mexico before the World Cup ... except that the 41-year-old was Mexico's best player in the game. Puebla, who are going to be battling relegation this year, decided to sign him up. He's going to play top flight soccer again.
You'll also see 38-year-old playmaker Sinha and 40-year-old goalkeeper Oswaldo Sanchez on the pitch, but it's not all about old guys finding ways to hang on. Leon's Carlos Peña is a direct, goal-scoring central midfielder who's style is a bit of a '90s throwback, and he'll be their key player with Luis Montes out until winter. Most of the aforementioned nicknamed players are among the game's most entertaining too -- keep an eye out for Chaco's long-range goals, Chupete's perfect runs off the ball and Hobbit playing exactly like you'd imagine a Hobbit plays soccer.
Most interesting teams and rivalries to watch
Chivas Guadalajara vs. America is the biggest rivalry in Mexican soccer, and their games will be even bigger this year if it looks like Chivas is facing relegation. Who gets relegated is based on an average of points accumulated over three years, and Chivas enters this season 16th out of 18 teams. All of Puebla, Veracruz and Universidad de Guadalajara are considered bigger relegation favorites, but those teams are so close together that it'll only take a couple of weeks of bad results for the Goats to drop into 18th.
Club Atlas, also located in Guadalajara is Chivas' secondary rival. They're also in the relegation race, but Salinas spent big in the transfer window, so they're expected to avoid last place fairly comfortably. It'll be immensely satisfying for Atlas fans if they can beat Chivas over the next two tournaments, contributing to their own survival and Chivas' relegation.
At the top of the table, expect Slim and Televisa to continue to battle for Liga MX supremacy with Leon and America. They've been the division's two best teams over the last couple of years, and there's no reason to believe they won't stay near the top. However, they should face stiff competition from Cruz Azul, Santos Laguna and Toluca. Liga MX is always wide-open enough that anyone could break up this group, but they form what appears to be a pretty clear top five.
Week 1 schedule (all times ET)
Queretaro vs. UNAM Pumas - Friday, 8:30 p.m., ESPN Deportes and Azteca
Tijuana vs. Puebla - Friday, 10:30 p.m., ESPN Deportes and Azteca
Cruz Azul vs. Pachuca - Saturday, 6 p.m., Univision
Veracruz vs. Santos Laguna - Saturday, 6 p.m., Univision Deportes
Monterrey vs. U. de G. - Saturday, 8 p.m., Univision Deportes
Leon vs. America - Saturday, 9 p.m., Telemundo
Atlas vs. Tigres UANL - Saturday, 10 p.m., Univision Deportes
Toluca vs. Morelia - Sunday, 1 p.m., Univision
Chivas vs. Jaguares de Chiapas - Sunday, 6 p.m., Univision Deportes