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Knowing the Score on Mexican Soccer Tournaments

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

Mexican Football

2020 Tournament Changes

Mexico’s Soccer League has cancelled the remainder of the current —2020— Ascenso tournament without a champion due to the Coronavirus and announced that promotion and relegation of teams has been cancelled for at least five seasons.  See heading below about promotion and relegation for details

Mexicans are passionate about their national sport.  Surveys suggest that over 70% of Mexicans between the ages of 12 and 60 regularly watch soccer games on TV, making the sport 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.

Many local matches are shown on free-to-view broadcast channels, which include those of Televisa, TV Azteca and Imagen TV. But in recent years, a growing number of games are only available on cable or satellite TV systems.  Fox Sports, for example, has the exclusive transmission rights to the home games of five first division teams.  Televisa also shows selected games only on its cable channel.

Likewise, if you want to watch teams like Real Madrid, Barcelona or Manchester United —to name a few— you’ll need to have a cable or satellite television subscription.

Mexico’s two annual soccer tournaments

The Mexican professional league has several divisions, although the focus is almost entirely on the first division, officially known as Liga BBVA, which currently has 19 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 on hold

As in some other countries, Mexico refers to its lower divisions somewhat euphemistically—the second division here is known as Ascenso, meaning ascent or promotion. Because of financial difficulties faced by Ascenso teams, exacerbated by the Coronavirus event that has caused the current tournaments to be suspended, the Mexican professional soccer league decided in April 2020 to cancel promotion and relegation to and from the first division for at least five seasons.

It also canceled the remainder of the current —2020— Ascenso tournament without a champion.

Average attendances in the division have fallen to around 8,000 at best, the league said  in a long and somewhat rambling explanation.  Teams will receive financial support while a project is put into action to consolidate the division as a type of training ground for the development of new talent.

Promotion and relegation probably won’t be missed much, as the process was plagued with problems anyway.  Most of the Ascenso teams don’t meet the requirements for promotion to the top flight, and the system was unevenly biased against them.  While promotion was  determined by a playoff between the team that wins the “opening” —Apertura— tournament, and the team that wins the “closing” —Clausura— tournament, relegation fell to the team in the first division that had the worst average over three seasons; that is, six tournaments.  That made it difficult for certain strong teams to be relegated if they just had one bad season, and complicated for teams that just ascended and were measured on a single year’s performance.  Several Ascenso teams are challenging the decision to cancel promotions and relegations.

Some of Mexico’s popular soccer teams

Here’s a summary of the most popular professional soccer 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 plays at the Aztec Stadium in southern Mexico City, along with Cruz Azul, which moved back recently as the Estadio Azul is expected to be demolished.

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.

Universidad Autónoma de Nuevo León, better known as Tigres, has been highly successful in recent years. The Monterrey derby —Tigres vs Rayados— is among the unquestioned clásicos of Mexican soccer, the other being América vs Chivas.

Cruz Azul.  A Mexico City side owned by the cement company of the same name.  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 consistently successful teams in the Mexican soccer league.

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 and Atlas.

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: http://www.ligabancomer.mx/

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