We're now a month into Liga MX's 2023 Clausura season, and Week 5 in Mexico's top flight had plenty to offer: A much-awaited Tigres debut for Mexico international Diego Lainez, a few clubs making early cases as title-contenders, proposed changes to the league structure by Liga MX president Mikel Arriola, 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 to catch you up.
- Liga MX standings | Liga MX coverage on ESPN Deportes
- Futbol Americas on ESPN+: Liga MX, MLS, USMNT, El Tri
Liga MX president proposes sweeping structure changes, but what's next?
With his usual set of graphics and detailed statistics displayed on a presentation behind him, Liga MX president Mikel Arriola recently unveiled a number of proposed changes, large and small, that he aims to make within the league.
As part of a 90-plus-minute press conference last week with Mexican Football Federation (FMF) president Yon de Luisa -- which was in response to a lackluster 2022 for both the men's and women's national teams -- the two executives laid out a new game plan that could alter the way that professional fútbol in is run in Mexico.
At the Liga MX level, the proposals included:
A return to eight playoff spots instead of 12.
Dropping the number of foreign players per roster from eight to seven.
A push to bring back promotion and relegation.
Ending the practice of single entities owning more than one club.
Creating a new trophy for the team with the highest total points over a full year.
Facilitating more transfers abroad for players.
However, an important caveat to emphasize at this moment is that the clubs themselves still need to approve the changes. Although Arriola hinted that there is a "great openness" with team owners that will vote on the game plan in May, nothing is official until that happens.
It's also important to note that even if these changes are approved in May, it could take an undetermined amount of time to start to implement the changes. Take promotion and relegation, for example: Arriola noted at the press conference that only Leones Negros of the second-division Liga de Expansion are eligible for promotion. In the past, league officials have stated that at least four teams from the second division would need to be deemed as eligible for promotion to return, casting doubts about how soon changes could really become reality.
As for single entities selling their additional teams, Arriola didn't specify a timeline, later saying that "it'll be an organized process, and that it'll start, without a doubt, as a process that maximizes the value of the teams." But getting these team owners to sell and ensuring they are no longer involved in other teams will be a process easier said than done.
Along with decreasing playoff teams, slightly altering rosters, giving more weight to year-long results, and a few other minor propositions, the list of changes for Liga MX are small steps in the right direction for Liga MX's future, but the big question remains when -- or if -- we'll see these new policies become official.
Diego Lainez impresses in return to Mexico
After weeks of transfer speculations and questions regarding his future, 22-year-old Mexican winger Diego Lainez finally stepped onto the field for the first time in 2023.
On loan from LaLiga's Real Betis with Tigres UANL in Liga MX, Lainez was eager to impress when he was substituted in during the 54th minute of Saturday's 1-0 away win vs. Cruz Azul. Pacey, accurate with his passes, and effective with his duels, the youthful player showed little fear when the ball landed at his feet.
Notably, in his most exciting run of the second half, Lainez slalomed past one Cruz Azul defender, sneaked past another with a fake shot, all before being denied by a great save from veteran goalkeeper Jesus "Chuy" Corona.
A nada de hacer tu primer gol como Tigre, @DiegoLainez10. pic.twitter.com/0zdfFvZEOj— Club Tigres Oficial 🐯 (@TigresOficial) February 5, 2023
That singular moment was the perfect embodiment of what the winger can still provide. Many have questioned Lainez's choice to return to Mexico and raised concerns about his inability to become a starter with either Real Betis in Spain or most recently with Braga in Portugal, but there are very few in Mexico with his same level of balance or dribbling.
If he can earn regular minutes with Tigres and demonstrate his quality on a consistent basis, there's no reason why he can't return to the conversation of Mexico's senior national team after being left out of the 2022 World Cup roster. In a new cycle ahead of 2026, a reinvigorated Lainez could be exactly what El Tri needs in an era that needs a generational change.
An eventual return to Europe shouldn't be ruled out just yet either, but first he needs consistent minutes with Tigres, and to find the back of the net after those clever dribbles.
Pachuca, Tigres and Monterrey emerge as early title favorites
With five games apiece played by all but four Liga MX clubs, the league table is finally beginning to take shape with some initial trends. Within the 18 clubs, only three have collected 11 or more points: First place Pachuca (12), second place Monterrey (12), and third place Tigres (11).
Despite being the reigning champion, Pachuca has defied odds by doing so well without Nicolas Ibañez, the club's top scorer from last season who is now with Tigres. They've since been carried by Mexican midfielder Javier "Chofis" Lopez, who scored his fourth goal of the season in the weekend's 1-0 away win over Leon. Given that Los Tuzos also recently signed MLS Cup winner and Colombian forward Cristian "Chicho" Arango from LAFC, another Liga MX title could soon be within reach.
Over at Monterrey, Los Rayados became the first team this season to hit four consecutive victories after defeating Toluca 2-1 on Sunday. While some early plaudits have been given to the goal-scoring efforts of forwards like Rogelio Funes Mori and German Berterame, midfielder Alfonso "Ponchito" Gonzalez stole the show over the weekend with a brace on his 200th game for the club. Their deep roster, all under the leadership of seasoned coach Victor Vucetich, has so far worked wonders.
For Tigres, there's an immense amount of firepower with French star Andre-Pierre Gignac, Ibañez, Lainez and many more who've made an impact in the final third -- but veteran goalkeeper Nahuel Guzman should also be given credit. He isn't as busy in net as other goalkeepers in the start to the year, but the Argentine was deserving of his third shutout of the season in the narrow victory over Cruz Azul. In the attack, given some time for Ibañez and Lainez to gel with others, Tigres will become even more dangerous.
- Elsewhere in Week 5: Atletico San Luis secured their first home win in a 2-0 result over Puebla, Necaxa bounced back from an early deficit in a 1-1 draw with Club Tijuana, FC Juarez scored three away in a 3-2 victory against Mazatlan, Santos Laguna let a two-goal lead slip in a 2-2 draw at home against Club America, Atlas' Julian Quiñones scored an 87th minute equalizer in a 2-2 away draw with Pumas, and Chivas got a 92nd minute equalizer from Alejandro Mayorga in Sunday's 1-1 tie with Queretaro.
- In case you missed it: ESPN's exclusive interview with 21-year-old Pachuca full-back Mauricio Isais is worth checking out for fans of Liga MX or El Tri. The Mexican-American Liga MX champion discussed his European ambitions, national team future, and other topics.
- Another one bites the dust. Six days after Mazatlan coach Gabriel Caballero was fired, Club Tijuana manager Ricardo Valiño was also dropped last Saturday. The border town team has yet to claim a win since August.
- To close things out, we go to Santos Laguna midfielder Lucas Gonzalez. Just 19 minutes after the 22-year-old Argentine made his Liga MX debut, he then also earned his first straight red card in the league as well. Not exactly the best first impression, and the face palm emoji from the club's official account said it all.