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Knowing the Score on Mexican Football Tournaments

Mexicans are passionate about football. Here's a primer on how Mexican soccer leagues play-out through the year.

Mexican Football

Mexicans are passionate about their national sport. Surveys suggest that over 70% of Mexicans between the ages of 12 and 60 regularly watch football matches — soccer games — on TV, making football a frequent topic of conversation here. With this in mind, here’s a primer on how the Mexican professional soccer leagues play-out through the year.

Most local matches in Mexico are shown on one of the free-to-view terrestrial channels broadcasting nationally: the big matches are split between Televisa and TV Azteca. If you want to watch teams like Real Madrid, Barcelona, Manchester United, or Paris Saint Germain, you will need to have a cable or satellite television subscription.

Mexico’s Two Annual Tournaments

The Mexican professional league has several divisions, although the focus is almost entirely on the first division, officially known as Liga MX, which has 18 teams. As in some South American countries, Mexico holds two championships a year:

Apertura or opening competition that runs from August to December; and

Clausura or closing which starts in January and ends in May.

Each tournament is decided by playoffs that pit the eight top teams against each other in a liguilla or little league, with quarter finals, semi-finals and a final played over two matches—each team playing one of the games at home.

In the quarters and semis, the highest placed teams are matched with the lowest finishers in the regular season, i.e. 1-vs-8, 2-vs-7, 3-vs-6 and 4-vs-5.

Methods for breaking a tie in each of the rounds have varied over the years with changes made every once in a while depending, it would appear, on the mood of soccer authorities.

At present, if two teams are tied after two matches, the first tie-breaking criterion is the team that scored the most goals playing away from home. If they’re still tied, the team which finished higher in the regular league is given the pass. These rules are set-aside in the final, when a tie after two matches leads to extra time, and then a series of penalty kicks.

The tension and excitement tends to increase as the playoffs approach the final rounds of each tournament during December and May, respectively.

Promotion and Relegation Between Leagues

As in some other countries, Mexico refers to its lower divisions somewhat euphemistically.

The second division here is commonly referred to as Primera A. That doesn’t mean 1A, or even A-OK. The A stands for Ascenso — ascent or promotion — and the official title of the league is Ascenso MX. Only one team is promoted each year, and one team is relegated from the top division.

Promotion is determined by a playoff between the team that wins the “opening” (Apertura) tournament, and the team that wins the “closing” (Clausura) tournament.

Relegation, on the other hand, is determined by the team in the first division that has the worst average over three seasons; that is, six tournaments. This makes it difficult for certain strong teams to be relegated if they just have one bad season, although it also makes it complicated for teams that have just ascended and are measured on a single year’s performance—bearing in mind that they have just been promoted to a more difficult league.

Some of Mexico’s Popular Teams

Here’s a summary of the most popular professional football teams in Mexico:

Club América, nicknamed Águilas or Eagles. Like the N.Y. Yankees of old, this is the team you either support or detest. There is no middle ground. América is the only team that plays at the Aztec Stadium in southern Mexico City. (At one time in the past, as many as four first-division sides played at the Azteca).

Guadalajara, nicknamed Chivas, or Goats. This team is known for only fielding Mexican players. Some people find that rule strange in these days when soccer players commonly play outside their own countries.

Universidad, UNAM, or Pumas. The National Autonomous University of Mexico team is based in Mexico City and Las Pumas play at the Olympic Stadium situated on the UNAM campus. The team is known for its soccer teaching, and being the source of many promising young Mexican players.

Pachuca, or Tuzos. Pachuca is Mexico’s oldest professional football team, as the sport was introduced into Mexico by Cornish miners in Hidalgo State in the late 19th century. Tuzo is the nickname for miners, a reference to the tuza, or gopher, a mole-like burrowing rodent.

Monterrey, nicknamed Rayados, or the striped ones. One of two first division sides in the northern industrial hub of Monterrey. Its local rival is Universidad Autonoma de Nuevo León, known as Tigres.

Cruz Azul. A Mexico City side owned by the cement company of the same name. Cruz Azul plays at the Estadio Azul near the World Trade Center in Mexico City. The team’s heyday was in the 1970s, and in more recent years it has become famous (or infamous depending who you support) for its number of second-place finishes.

Toluca, nicknamed Los Diablos or the Devils, have been one of Mexico’s most consistent teams, but just recently failed to make the playoffs after an unsuccessful season.

Santos of Torreón. Santos is both the team’s name and nickname, and aside from the Monterrey clubs has been the most consistent and successful of teams from northern Mexico.

While these are probably the best known teams, Mexico’s league is quite competitive and it isn’t that unusual for others to surprise. Tijuana, León, Morelia, Veracruz, and Querétaro have all either won a championship or come fairly close to it. Others are Puebla, Atlas, Chiapas and Dorados of Sinaloa State.

A Final Note About the Spanish Word ‘Futbol’

In South America football is pronounced futbol and spelled with an accent on the “u” — fútbol. In Mexico (and Central America) it’s pronounced futbol and therefore has no accent. Both are correct, says the Spanish Royal Academy.

Tables, fixtures, and results for the Mexican league can be found online at:

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