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Is Jose Saturnino Cardozo’s Apertura 2002 the best ever by a striker in Mexico?

The Paraguay International set an all-time single season record with 29 goals

El paraguayo Jose Saturnino Cardozo, del Photo credit should read JUAN BARRETO/AFP via Getty Images

We have had the opportunity to witness some pretty good strikers over the course of the past two to three decades in Mexico. Not to say that there weren’t good strikers in the league before that, such as all-time lead scorer Cabinho with 312 goals, but for some reason, most of the players in the conversations for best goal scorer ever seem to have played from the 90s on.

Some of the recent greats include André-Pierre Gignac, Humberto Suazo, Christian Benitez, Oribe Peralta, even Rogelio Funes Mori. And if we go a little further back, we’ll find players such as Salvador Cabañas, Luis “El Matador” Hernandez, Luis Garcia, Jared Borgetti, Carlos Hermosillo. They´re all historic greats for Liga MX, but which of these strikers had the best season ever?

Perhaps no striker has ever had as effective, dominant, and consistent a season as Jose Saturnino Cardozo had in the Apertura 2002. He started his career in his natal Paraguay, until he arrived in Toluca in 1995, where he would play for ten years until departing in 2005. He dominated the league and was easily the best striker in Mexico during most of his tenure, having scored 249 goals in his career in Mexico, placing him 4th all time, behind Cabinho, Hermosillo, and Borgetti.

The Apertura 2002 season was the first time in the shortened season era where 20 teams would be featured, meaning 19 games were played by every team. Cardozo played in every single game that season, and almost played every single minute, had he not been substituted in the 74th minute vs Morelia, which were the only 16 minutes he missed of the season. He ended up winning the scoring title of course, with 29 goals in the regular season. Out of the 19 games, he only didn’t score in 3 of them. He had three hat-tricks and one 4-goal game (vs Pachuca) during the season. 29 goals. His closest competitor for the goal-scoring title was Jared Borgetti, with 16.

SOC-MEXICO-TOLUCA-PACHUCA Photo credit should read RAMON CAVALLO/AFP via Getty Images

Cardozo scored goals in every way you can imagine; headers, volleys, right-footed, left-footed, arching the ball over the keeper, converting penalties, dribbling defenders and creating his own space, putting the ball away with a cross in from Sinha, you name it. He put on a magic show every single game that season, and never lowered his intensity.

Still not convinced? Toluca ended up with the 2nd seed in the standings, with 12 wins, 5 draws, and only 2 losses. They would go on to win the league title, scoring a total of 15 goals during the playoffs, destroying all three rivals’ defense, winning every series by at least 2 goals. And guess who went on to score in 5 of the 6 playoff games. Yep. Cardozo would score the goal vs. Chivas in the quarter-final which allowed Toluca to advance to the semis vs. Santos, where he would score twice in both legs, accounting for 4 of Toluca’s 7 goals in that series. And then, after losing the first leg in the final vs. Morelia, Toluca would come back home, and with the aggregate score tied at 2 apiece, the Paraguay International would score the goal which gave his team the lead to ultimately claim the league title.

It can’t get any better than that. Cardozo scored 29 regular season goals and 7 playoff goals. 36 total goals in 25 games. He scored in 21 of those 25 games, and led his team to the championship. The level of consistency and quality he displayed during that season were just unreal. We’ve seen many good strikers come into the league since his departure in 2005, and while many of them have shown great ability and accomplished quite a bit, nobody has repeated Cardozo’s Apertura 2002. They say records are meant to be broken. But this one just might be the exception.