Liga MX season preview: Will Atlas make it a three-peat or can America, Chivas, Tigres topple the champs?

Liga MX is back! After a short summer break, the 2022 Apertura tournament kicks off this Friday with the start of Week 1. Will Club America’s eye-catching signings make a huge splash? Will Atlas defy the odds with yet another trophy? Who is a dark horse?

With team-by-team analysis, here’s a preview for the upcoming Liga MX season.

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ATLAS

Previous regular season finish: 3rd
Previous playoff finish: Champions
Noteworthy additions: Edison Flores, Mauro Manotas, Idekel Dominguez

What to expect: Can the back-to-back champions make it an astonishing three titles in a row? With a strong core of the roster staying put, manager Diego Cocca’s squad has been bolstered with the likes of Dominguez, Manotas and Flores. Nonetheless, Los Rojinegros will still need to punch above their weight once again to find the similar success gained in recent months. It seems unthinkable they could do that, but the same could be said of their last two trophies.

ATLETICO SAN LUIS

Previous regular season finish: 10th
Previous playoff finish: Quarterfinalists
Noteworthy additions: Vitinho, Rodrigo Dourado, Aldo Cruz

What to expect: It took some time for San Luis to get going last season, but when Brazilian manager Andre Jardine had a couple of weeks under his belt after stepping in during February, the Liga MX minnows earned a number of surprising results that eventually pushed them to the quarterfinals of the playoffs. However, one glaring question for San Luis is the future of star striker German Berterame, who has reportedly left the club in recent weeks.

CHIVAS

Previous regular season finish: 6th
Previous playoff finish: Quarterfinalists
Noteworthy additions: Alan Mozo, Ruben Gonzalez

What to expect: The sample size remains small, but there’s undoubtedly something promising for a Chivas side that went through a five-game winning streak after interim manager Ricardo Cadena took charge in April. Now officially given the reins of the club, Cadena will look to build up to the ambitions of the Liga MX giants that aim to be title-contenders and not just playoff hopefuls. Adding in Alan Mozo, a thrilling and attack-minded right-back, could be the missing piece of the puzzle. However, Jose Juan Macias’ ACL injury is a major setback.

CLUB AMERICA

Previous regular season finish: 4th
Previous playoff finish: Semifinalists
Noteworthy additions: Nestor Araujo, Jonathan “Cabecita” Rodriguez, Jurgen Damm

What to expect: Once dead last at the midpoint of the 2022 Clausura tournament, Club America established themselves as the comeback story of the season with their run towards 4th in the table and in the semis of the playoffs under interim manager Fernando Ortiz. Like Chivas, the Mexican powerhouse has title-winning ambitions, and with the additions of highly-talented players like Rodriguez and Mexico international Araujo, Las Aguilas might have the extra tools needed to fight for a championship.

CLUB TIJUANA

Previous regular season finish: 17th
Previous playoff finish: Didn’t qualify
Noteworthy additions: Franco di Santo, Alexis Canelo, Kevin Castañeda, Jair Diaz

What to expect: Di Santo, Canelo, Castañeda and Diaz, among a few others, are intriguing additions that the bordertown club have made over the summer. Problem is, they’ve also let go of a handful of important key players as well. Significant roster turnover has rarely worked for Tijuana and it has been a key reason why they’ve consistently been a mid-to-lower table team for several years now. This season shouldn’t be any different.

CRUZ AZUL

Previous regular season finish: 8th
Previous playoff finish: Quarterfinalists
Noteworthy additions: N/A

What to expect: Cruz Azul have yet to finalize reported moves for options like defender Bruno Mendez and winger Carlos Rotondi. Either way, it appears as though what could make or break Cruz Azul’s season is a stronger presence at the No. 9 position, which has so far been underwhelming in 2022. Ahead of the World Cup, promising Mexico international Santiago Gimenez will likely be given more chances to shine in Cruz Azul’s attack — especially after scoring in a Liga MX Supercopa win over Atlas in June.

FC JUAREZ

Previous regular season finish: 18th
Previous playoff finish: Didn’t qualify
Noteworthy additions: Alfredo Talavera, Darwin Machis, Jesus Dueñas, Mauro Lainez

What to expect: The argument could be made that FC Juarez, who recently finished last in the 2022 Clausura table, had the best offseason moves of the summer. Talavera and Machis on their own would be headline-stealing signings for any other team in the league. Coupled with Dueñas and Lainez coming in, you begin to wonder if Juarez might become a dark horse in the upcoming Apertura tournament. A team to keep an eye on.

LEON

Previous regular season finish: 13th
Previous playoff finish: Didn’t qualify
Noteworthy additions: Byron Castillo, Lucas di Yorio

What to expect: Back in late 2021, Leon could have made a case for themselves as the strongest Liga MX team in recent years. They qualified for the 2019 Clausura final, lifted the 2020 Apertura trophy, won the 2021 Leagues Cup championship, and were finalists in the 2021 Apertura. Since failing to win that latest final, they’ve lost serious momentum and were unexciting to watch last season as they stumbled outside of a playoff spot with just 17 goals in 17 games. Castillo and Di Yorio could become game-changers in the final third, but it’s also telling that their best player so far in 2022 has been goalkeeper Rodolfo Cota.

MAZATLAN

Previous regular season finish: 12th
Previous playoff finish: Play-in round
Noteworthy additions: Yoel Barcenas

What to expect: Mazatlan were a playoff team last season after sneaking in through at 12th, but they were a side that earned that position with six wins over 17 games and a -4 goal differential. Outside of adding Panama international Yoel Barcenas and resigning Marco Fabian, Mazatlan have been fairly quiet this summer, likely leading to another battle for a fringe playoff spot this season.

MONTERREY

Previous regular season finish: 7th
Previous playoff finish: Play-in round
Noteworthy additions: Rodrigo Aguirre

What to expect: Only Tigres superstar and crosstown rival Andre-Pierre Gignac scored more goals in the 2022 Clausura regular season than Aguirre. With Necaxa, the 27-year-old Uruguayan striker made a name for himself as a clinical finisher through 10 goals in his past 15 appearances. Now with Monterrey, Los Rayados could move on past their irregular finishing with Rogelio Funes Mori and Vincent Janssen, who has since left the club. With a double threat of powerful headers and left-footed shots, and plenty of talented Monterrey playmakers in support, Aguirre could be a signing of the season for a team that looks like a sleeping giant.

NECAXA

Previous regular season finish: 9th
Previous playoff finish: Play-in round
Noteworthy additions: Jose Joaquin Esquivel, Edgar Mendez, Jesus Godinez, Juan Pablo Segovia

What to expect: As per usual, Necaxa have made low-key but smart moves in the transfer window. With the resourceful and Olympic bronze medal-winning manager Jaime “Jimmy” Lozano still in charge, Necaxa should continue to be greater than the sum of their parts as they look to return to the playoffs. But can they be just as dangerous without Aguirre? Now with Monterrey, the absence of their leading striker could be a massive one in the upcoming Apertura tournament.

PACHUCA

Previous regular season finish: 1st
Previous playoff finish: Finalists
Noteworthy additions: Paulino de la Fuente, Marino Hinestroza

What to expect: No matter the fact that Atlas won the title last season, Pachuca were the most dominant and consistent team in the regular season. Manager Guillermo Almada’s roster will be similar to the one seen in the first half of 2022, and with more time for many of Pachuca’s academy stars to develop, Los Tuzos should be one of the favorites for the title after narrowly missing out in the Clausura.

PUEBLA

Previous regular season finish: 5th
Previous playoff finish: Quarterfinalists
Noteworthy additions: Gaston Silva, Omar Fernandez, Emiliano Garcia, Santiago Montiel

What to expect: There was a period of time last season in which Puebla were the story of the Liga MX tournament. With a modest roster, young manager Nicolas Larcamon held them at the top of the table for six of their first nine weeks of the Clausura. Unfortunately, a drop in energy and drive followed as they fell to 5th in and later exited in the quarterfinal stage of the playoffs. Likely needing more depth in the roster, Larcamon might be able to have a more successful end to a tournament with Silva and the return of Fernandez. Garcia and Montiel are also budding names to keep an eye on after finishing a loan with Villarreal’s youth setup.

PUMAS

Previous regular season finish: 11th
Previous playoff finish: Play-in round
Noteworthy additions: Gustavo del Prete, Cesar Huerta, Adrian Aldrete, Gil Alcala

What to expect: When Pumas’ paper-thin roster exceeded expectations last season through a run to the Liga MX playoffs and the final of the 2022 CONCACAF Champions League, many wondered what could have been achieved if they had another much-needed attacker or two available. In steps Del Prete, an experienced 26-year-old Argentine striker who was the joint-third top goal scorer in the 2021 Copa Sudamericana. If the reports are true that Boca Juniors’ Eduardo Salvio will also be in the mix, their attacking issues should be resolved, but it’ll be a gamble while also letting Talavera and Mozo exit the team.

QUERETARO

Previous regular season finish: 16th
Previous playoff finish: Didn’t qualify
Noteworthy additions: N/A

What to expect: They have yet to be made official, but several reports have indicated that defenders Gabriel Rojas and Jordan Silva will soon join Queretaro. The additions are necessary, but they’ll also require more help in the frontline after scoring just 18 times in 17 games last season — four of which arrived in the final match of the season against last place FC Juarez. With a continued ban on supporters at home and away after the ugly scenes of fan violence in March, their atmosphere won’t have much of a factor at the Estadio Corregidora.

SANTOS LAGUNA

Previous regular season finish: 14th
Previous playoff finish: Didn’t qualify
Noteworthy additions: Juan Brunetta

What to expect: Santos Laguna have made a few quiet moves, but what easily stands out the most is the addition of Juan Brunetta, an attack-minded Argentine midfielder who last played for Parma in Serie B. That said, Los Guerreros already have all of the right pieces to return to the playoffs and likely just need a full preseason of preparation with a manager like Eduardo Fentanes that took over in late February. A big boost could also arrive if star goalkeeper Carlos Acevedo rediscovers his form.

TIGRES

Previous regular season finish: 2nd
Previous playoff finish: Semifinalists
Noteworthy additions: N/A

What to expect: Other than a few exits for replaceable players, Tigres have yet to make many waves in the transfer window. On paper, they don’t really need to with a roster that rivals that of any other team in North America. Gignac is still scoring an incredible amount of goals, and alongside him, there’s no lack of playmakers, midfielders and reliable defenders. Whether noteworthy signings come in or not, manager Miguel “Piojo” Herrera and his men should be title-contenders.

TOLUCA

Previous regular season finish: 15th
Previous playoff finish: Didn’t qualify
Noteworthy additions: Tiago Volpi, Carlos Gonzalez, Sebastian Saucedo, Jean Meneses, Fernando Navarro, Andres Mosquera, Marcel Ruiz

What to expect: Last but most definitely not least, we have Toluca. Although they weren’t able to solidify rumored moves for world-class players like Edinson Cavani and Luuk de Jong, they seem to have compensated for it with a number of compelling transfers that could make them a dark horse. Of the new additions, Volpi stands out as a shot-stopper who was arguably the best in his position in Liga MX with Queretaro from 2015 to 2019. Up top, Gonzalez, a Paraguay international, should be set on thriving once again after being previously lost in the attacking depth of Tigres.

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