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5 players to watch in the Liga MX 2013 Apertura

Some of El Tri's budding young stars and fringe players will have every chance to play their way into the Mexico setup this year, while one foreign arrival has a chance to become one of the league's biggest stars.

Dino Panato

Raul Jimenez

We mentioned Jimenez earlier in our '5 big questions' post, but that part of the post deserved to be expanded on here. Currently away on Gold Cup duty with the Mexican national team, Jimenez will probably miss America's first game of the season next week, but he'll almost certainly slot right into the starting lineup right after that.

He's going to have a chance to make a big impression on his national team manager in the Gold Cup knockout stages after his playing time was limited in World Cup qualifying and the Confederations Cup, and based on less than encouraging recent developments in the careers of other national player pool strikers, he'll have every chance to cement his place with good performances.

Jimenez is a very big striker by Liga MX and Mexican national team standards at 6'3", but he has surprisingly good touch and pace for a man of his size. His finishing leaves a bit to be desired, but he makes up for it with his hold-up play and passing. He also showed signs of improving as a goal-scorer in his last tournament, netting 10 goals in 23 appearances.

With 'Chucho' Benitez gone, all the pressure will be on him to be the focal point and star of the Club America attack. Luis Gabriel Rey is a solid and consistent player, but America will likely only go as far as Jimenez takes them. If he rises to new heights and becomes one of the best strikers in Mexico, they'll be able to contend for a title. If he fails to continue to improve, they'll probably be a fringe Liguilla side.

Jorge Enriquez

Enriquez is in a very similar situation to Jimenez, though Club America's recent title might keep the pressure off Jimenez just a little bit. Chivas, who have underachieved badly in recent seasons, are in an entirely different situation. Their fans expect results now, and they might be hard to come by if Enriquez doesn't finally fulfill his promise and cement himself as a top Liga MX central midfielder.

Veteran midfielder Luis Ernesto Perez had a disappointing season in his first year with Chivas and was shipped out to Queretaro, putting the responsibility to run the midfield on Enriquez. Antonio Gallardo has come back from loan and will provide some depth, but he doesn't have anywhere near the talent of 'Chaton', who has had a bit of a roller-coaster career to this point.

Enriquez impressed as a teenager, but didn't play particularly well in the run-up to the Summer Olympics, where he surprisingly starred in Mexico's gold medal run. That looked like it might be a jumping-off point for him to finally become a star, but he had a rough 2012-13 season for Chivas.

This could be a sink or swim year for Enriquez as a Chivas starter and as a national team option in the short term. He could be the anchor of a Chivas team that returns to Liguilla en route to a place on the World Cup squad or he could turn in a mediocre year in another disappointing season for Chivas.

Hugo Ayala

The 2013 Clausura Liguilla and Gold Cup should have been opportunities for Hugo Ayala to prove that he's the best central defender in Mexico and worthy of consideration for a starting place in the Mexico team. Instead, he went down for the season a few weeks before Liguilla and failed to recover in time to play for Mexico this summer. He'll be fit to start the season, but he's now behind the curve in sealing a national team place and will need to turn in a dominant year to get back into the discussion.

Given his pre-injury form and the team around him, there's no reason to believe that he won't. He forms arguably the best central defense partnership in the league with Juninho at Tigres as part of what seems to be pretty clearly the best back line, with fullbacks Jorge Torres Nilo and Israel Jimenez on either side of them.

Ayala is only an average-sized defender at 6'0", but he makes up for any physical shortcomings with his positioning and anticipation. He regularly sees passes before the players he's marking do and cuts out through balls and 50-50 balls expertly. Between 'Maza' Francisco Rodriguez's continued decline and the fact that Diego Reyes is going to have to fight for his place at Porto, Ayala might find himself in a position to become an El Tri starter.

Fernando Arce

While Fernando Arce has been a solid player in Liga MX for a decade, he surprised many last year by putting in the best season of his career at the age of 32. He's a key man for Tijuana, and their ability to contend for a title will likely depend on how he holds up. He's 33 now with literally hundreds of games on his legs and it's difficult to see him matching the level he played at last season.

While Arce has played most of his career as an attacking midfielder or a wide player, he's reinvented himself with the Xolos, spending most of his time as a two-way central midfielder in a 4-2-3-1 or 3-4-3 formation. He's surprisingly dealt very well with his new defensive responsibilities and held up better than anyone could have reasonably expected him to in Copa Libertadores tilts with Corinthians and Atletico Mineiro.

Arce's resurgence in a new position is difficult to explain, but he's been consistent enough that it's impossible to just write him off as lucky. He seems to have adapted to it so well that he's become one of Mexico's best central midfielders, something that would have been unthinkable two years ago. If he keeps this up, Tijuana will keep contending with Mexico's traditional powers.

Dorlan Pabon

Fans and bloggers alike regularly refer to signings as 'boom or bust', declaring that the player will either have a massive impact or be a bad signing. This is generally a cop-out from someone who is unwilling to stick their neck out while also usually being wholly inaccurate; players who look like boom or bust signings turn out to be average all the time. However, in the case of Dorlan Pabon, it's very difficult to envision him being an average signing for Monterrey.

During his two seasons at Atletico Nacional in his native Colombia, Pabon was dominant. Playing either as a wide forward or a center forward, his combination of dribbling ability, pace and finishing made him deadly regardless of his position or who he was playing with. He was one of the best players at the 2012 Copa Libertadores, finishing one goal behind the golden boot winners with seven, despite playing in just eight games. That led to his transfer to Parma, which turned out to be a disaster.

Pabon failed to score in Serie A with Parma and both he and the club cited family issues as his inability to settle and perform well there. His eventual move to Monterrey was announced in the winter, but he moved on loan to Betis for the remainder of the season, where he performed well.

With Aldo de Nigris gone to Chivas and Humberto Suazo a year older, Pabon will get plenty of time in the starting lineup for the Rayados and will be expected to produce. If his personal and family issues are sorted and he's not feeling homesick, expect him to quickly establish himself as one of Liga MX's best strikers and score at a rate that rivals the departed 'Chucho'. But if he's not focused? Well, we've already seen how poorly that can turn out.