And we're back! With the 2011 Apertura season off to a flying start, let's take a look back at the biggest stories, players, and moments from Round 1 of the new Mexican Primera season.
Welcome to the Mexican Primera, Part 1: Tijuana Xolos
It was a perfect day for Tijuana: packed stadium, beautiful weather, and a historic debut in the Mexican Primera. Unfortunately for the Xolos, their opponents Morelia showed up ready to play. Just thirteen minutes into the match, Morelia’s Damian Manso sent a great ball to Luis Sandoval, who finished for the 1-0 Monarcas lead. Not exactly the start that Xolos fans had been waiting for. Tijuana fought back, though, and managed to even things up just before halftime off a rebound goal scored by Joe Corona.
Late in the second half Monarcas would grab the lead for good, after Joao Rojas was taken down from behind in the box. Miguel Sabah snuck the resulting penalty shot past Tijuana keeper Cirilo Saucedo giving Morelia the win, and spoiling Tijuana's Primera debut. It was a tough loss for the Xolos fans, who hadn’t seen their team drop a match at home in over a full year. Unfortunately, it’s something they may have to get used to. Life in the Primera can be difficult, and things certainly get no easier for Tijuana. The Xolos must travel to Monterrey next weekend, still in search of their first win in the top division.
Welcome to the Mexican Primera, Part 2: Ivan Alonso
In our Toluca team preview we asked if new acquisition Ivan Alonso would embrace the role of featured scorer for the Red Devils. Less than seven minutes into the season we got our answer. In Friday night's season opener on the road against Estudiantes Tecos, Alonso broke past the Tecos backline and gave Toluca an almost immediate 1-0 lead. Followed up just a few minutes later by an incredible strike from Nestor Calderon, the Toluca offense was instantly off and rolling. With the loss of Hector Mancilla last winter, followed by the loss of strikers Jaime Ayovi and Emmanuel Cerda this summer, there were a lot of lingering questions about where the Toluca scoring would come from. If the opening match is any indication, then the Red Devils appear to be in good hands. With the veteran Sinha guiding the attack, Alonso up front, and budding talent Calderon in support, the Red Devils showed they may just have what it takes to finally turn things around this season.
Vexed at the Volcan
As usual, UANL Tigres fans packed the Estadio Universitaro, aka the "Volcan", long before kickoff on Saturday evening. The home supporters teemed in anticipation of a new season, exploding with enthusiasm for a returning squad loaded with talent. Facing a shorthanded Cruz Azul side, no one in attendance expected anything less than a win.
Things wouldn’t quite go according to plan. Missing playmaker Chaco Gimenez and goalkeeper Jesus Corona due to suspension, Cruz Azul came out in a defensive lineup and successfully thwarted the talented Tigres attack. Playing with a five-man backline, and dropping the midfield back for most of the match, Cruz Azul still found a way to jump out to an early 1-0 lead. And things actually could have been even worse for Tigres. If Jose Rivas doesn’t clear a ball off the goal line, the visitors are up 2-0 in the 25th minute. Tigres would eventually even up the match courtesy of an error from Gerardo Torrado, but that would be it for the scoring. The 1-1 draw was no question a disappointing start to the season for Tigres, and many in the crowd voiced their displeasure as the home side left the field. Even against a loaded defensive formation, the Tigres attack has to do better going forward. Danilinho seemed to have lost his touch, and prevented things from being more fluid on the right side. On the left, Jorge Torres Nilo needs to take a more aggressive offensive role -- especially against a team like Cruz Azul who were exerting little pressure down the right side. The good news for Tigres is that they get a great shot at bouncing back next week on the road against a mediocre Queretaro team.
Rayados off on the Right Foot
Stop the presses: Monterrey won their road opener. Believe it or not, prior to this weekend it had been twelve long seasons since Monterrey got a victory in their first road game of a season. On Sunday, in the far southern end of the country, Monterrey earned an impressive 4-1 win over Jaguares de Chiapas. It was the first Rayados win in a road opener since all the way back in the Clausura 2005 season.
It was an especially important victory for several reasons. Monterrey got off to a slow start last season, losing three of their first four, and never fully recovered. Sunday’s win gets them off on the right foot in the Apertura. And while we don't want to get too carried away about a win over Jaguares, the result was made all the more impressive because it came without Monterrey’s two best scorers -- Humberto Suazo and Aldo de Nigris. Neither player took the field on Sunday, but both players should be back in the lineup next week at home against Tijuana.
Club America fans couldn’t have asked for a better debut from their new high-priced striker. Team ownership dropped 10 million on Benitez during the offseason, and just one week into the season it looks like money well spent. In his debut appearance in the blue and yellow jersey, Benitez scored two first-half goals to lead the Aguilas to a 2-1 victory over Queretaro. Chucho's first goal came mainly courtesy of a deflection off Queretaro defender Efrain Cortes, but his second came via a beautiful breakaway finish. Chucho’s form looked reminiscent of his start to the Apertura 2010 season one year ago. Then at Santos, Benitez also scored two goals in the opener, before going on to win the scoring title with fourteen total goals in the regular season. Another year like that and Benitez will quickly turn America into the leading favorites for the title.
As good as Benitez was this weekend, you can certainly forgive the Santos Laguna fans back in Torreon for asking the question about their departed striker. Many figured the Santos offense would take a step back this season with the departure of Benitez. Instead, the team went flying out of the starting blocks, matching Monterrey as the highest scoring team with four goals in the opening weekend. The new hero for the Guerreros was Oribe Peralta, who filled the role vacated by Benitez and them some. On the road against Pachuca, Peralta netted a hat-trick, putting him one goal away from his scoring total for all of last season. For Pachuca it was all over quickly. Eleven minutes into the match Christian Suarez sent a cross in to Peralta, who finished with his head for the early Santos lead. The Tuzos never recovered, and Santos would eventually run the margin up to 4-0 before giving up a late goal. Overall it was a fantastic start for a Santos team who, after a disappointing Clausura season, are looking to prove that they're still a force to be reckoned with.
Goal of the Week
The goal of the opening round comes courtesy of Toluca's Nestor Calderon, who along with Ivan Alonso helped lead the Red Devils to a 2-1 road win over Tecos. The beautiful Calderon golazo comes at 0:18 seconds into the clip below.
Round 1 Scoreboard
Estudiantes Tecos 1 - 2 Toluca
Pachuca 1 - 4 Santos
Tijuana 1 - 2 Morelia
UANL Tigres 1 - 1 Cruz Azul
Atlas 0 - 1 Puebla
Atlante 0 - 2 Chivas
Pumas UNAM 2 - 0 San Luis
Club America 2 - 1 Queretaro
Jaguares 1 - 4 Monterrey