With many of the league's key attacking players still shaking off the winter cobwebs, the 2012 Clausura began with a surprisingly defensive-minded opening round. Only three teams managed to score more than one goal, while seven teams were shutout completely. Five teams were able to claim victories in their opening matches: Toluca, Club America, Monterrey, Atlante, and San Luis. Not a single one of these five teams made the playoffs last season, which is perfectly fitting for a wide-open league that prides itself on competitive balance year in and year out.
Upon Further Review
It was also perhaps fitting that the Clausura began just as the Apertura had concluded: clouded in controversy over questionable referee decisions. In last season's final it was a series of red cards. In the opening match of the Clausura it was an eyebrow-raising reversal from referee Antony Zanjuampa.
Hosting visiting Tijuana on Friday night, Morelia jumped out to an early lead courtesy of a Rafael Marquez Lugo goal set up by the veteran Miguel Sabah. Later in the half things took a strange turn when Tijuana striker Duvier Riascos went to ground in the box and was shown a yellow card for diving. After further review -- in this case a long consultation with the side judge -- head referee Zanjuampa reversed his decision, rescinding the yellow card and instead awarding Tijuana a penalty. It was probably the correct decision (Riascos was certainly brought down by contact), but it produced understandable shock and disbelief amongst the Monarcas supporters. The home crowd's disbelief quickly turned to anger as Tijuana's Jose Sand converted the ensuing penalty for what would prove to be the final 1-1 scoreline.
No matter how it was earned, a point on the road has to be seen as a great start for a Tijuana team that remains mired in a tough relegation battle. Any further success this season, though, will be predicated on how consistently the midfield can set up Riascos and Sand (and Dayro Moreno when he returns) in scoring position. The Xolos will certainly need more creativity in the middle from Leandro Augusto and Fernando Arce, as well as increased productivity out wide from wingbacks Edgar Castillo and Richard Ruiz.
The Champs Are Here
On Saturday night, the defending champions rolled into Mexico City looking to jumpstart their title defense against Cruz Azul. Instead, it was the home team drawing first blood with a lethal long-range strike from Chaco Gimenez. The veteran midfielder showed why he's still one of the best free kick takers in the Mexican Primera with his blast to put Cruz Azul on top early. After falling behind, Tigres eventually regained their footing and began to exert their will as the game progressed. The equalizer appeared inevitable as multiple Tigres shots deflected off the crossbar. After several misses -- including an epic point-blank header fail from Hector Mancilla -- Tigres finally broke through with the tying score. The relatively easy tap-in from Lucas Lobos would be the final goal of the game. A 1-1 result at home against the defending champs certainly isn't an embarrassment, but the Cruz Azul offense was far from impressive on the night. The first point of emphasis for Cruz Azul in the coming weeks has to be fully working striker Omar Bravo into the team's attack. The newcomer must figure prominently alongside Emanuel Villa if La Maquina want to improve on last season's highly disappointing goal-scoring numbers.
Return of the Rayados
Speaking of disappointments, Monterrey was one of the biggest letdowns of last season, missing out on the playoffs despite being one of the league's most talented teams. In order to turn things around in the new year, the Rayados desperately needed to start the Clausura on a positive note. With Humberto Suazo not in the cards, Monterrey debuted their new look up front with Angel Reyna taking a spot at striker alongside Aldo de Nigris. Neither man would get in the scoring column in Saturday's opener against Jaguares, but it ended up not being an issue. Instead, Walter Ayovi decided to take care of business singlehandedly. The Ecuadorian midfielder knocked in two goals in the span of just over two minutes early in the second half, and Monterrey was off and running. Jaguares striker Jackson Martinez used a superb bit of skill to get his team on the scoresheet late in the match, but it was too little too late. With a solid offensive performance, along with a fantastic defensive effort against a potent Jaguares attack, Monterrey looks to have taken a big first step back towards championship contention.
New Look Potros
After a few big offseason changes -- including the loss of attacking midfielder Hobbit Bermudez and goalkeeper Moises Munoz -- a new look Atlante side put together one of the most surprising performances of the opening round. Two of the key figures in Atlante's impressive road win over Chivas on Saturday also happened to be making their debuts with the team. New goalkeeper Armando Navarrete kept Chivas off the scoreboard, while new forward Michael Arroyo came through with the winning goal. The crucial score came in first half stoppage time, as an Atlante breakaway ended with Andres Mendoza (another Potros newcomer) setting up Arroyo for the easy score. Chivas would make several changes as the game wore on, but nothing seemed to work out for the home side. Dating back to last season, Saturday's result brought the Chivas winless streak to five games. It's not a good look for Chivas fans, who again saw their team struggle to find the back of the net. With a packed schedule over the coming months due to Copa Libertadores participation, it could be the beginning of a long and painful domestic campaign if the Chivas offense can't find a way to quickly turn things around.
Elsewhere Around the League
New Club America goalkeeper Moises Munoz earned a shutout in the Aguilas' 2-0 victory over Queretaro, while the veteran Oscar Perez did the same for San Luis in a 1-0 win over Pumas. Toluca striker Ivan Alonso led the Red Devils to the best offensive performance of the opening round, an impressive 3-1 win over Estudiantes Tecos. In other action, Santos Laguna and Pachuca battled to scoreless draw, as did Puebla and Atlas.
Round 1 Scoreboard
Morelia 1 - 1 Club Tijuana
Queretaro 0 - 2 America
Cruz Azul 1 - 1 Tigres
Monterrey 2 - 1 Jaguares
Chivas 0 - 1 Atlante
Santos 0 - 0 Pachuca
San Luis 1 - 0 Pumas
Puebla 0 - 0 Atlas
Toluca 3 - 1 Estudiantes