Veracruz problem dragging down Liga MX
When Monterrey hosts local rivals Tigres on Wednesday in the impressive Estadio BBVA Bancomer for the second leg of the CONCACAF Champions League final, you'd be stretched to find a more positive advertisement for the strength of Liga MX. There'll be over 50,000 people in attendance, a quality of play and players that are as good as you will find outside the top European leagues and passionate fan bases fueling the spectacle.
But as exciting as the Clasico Regio final is as an example of Liga MX's potentially glowing future, there is a ready counterweight also competing in Liga MX and dismantling the idea that Mexican football is a bed of roses: Veracruz.
Just like every other weekend this season, Veracruz failed to win, falling 1-0 to Queretaro -- the second worst team of the season -- on Sunday. The result sees Veracruz anchored to the bottom of the league table on a grand total of zero points. This is a side that lost 9-2 to Pachuca on April 13, hasn't won in Liga MX since last August, has just 73 points from 101 games over the last three years and has already been relegated in record time.
Whichever way you try to bend the numbers, there's no way of escaping the fact that Veracruz has been terrible.
Getting rid of such a poor team from the first division, you assume, would be welcomed by everyone involved in the Mexican game. Except there's a twist: Liga MX changed its rules for this season to allow the relegated club to pay a $6.3 million fine to stay in the first division -- the idea eventually being that the league expands to 20 clubs.
It's a no-brainer to pay the fine; the concept of promotion and relegation in Liga MX isn't entirely clear moving forward, meaning the price of the franchise would likely drop significantly more than the fine if Veracruz was to not pay it and go down. The sale of young goalkeeper Sebastian Jurado would raise at least half that figure, highlighting how the "pay to stay" system imposed is ill-conceived, if well-meaning.
But if the figures and performances on the field have been bad, off it the club -- and particularly owner and president Fidel Kuri -- has been even worse. Veracruz has managed to jump from scandal to scandal all year.
Where to start?
Veracruz is under investigation for its alleged use of double contracts -- supposedly to reduce its tax bill tax -- and was docked four points this season when a FIFA disciplinary commission ruled that it had failed to pay Montevideo Wanderers the development rights for Matias Santos.
Earlier this month, politician Kuri accused Santos Laguna of knowingly selling Veracruz an injured player, Fredy Hinestroza. Santos released a statement denying the claim and reserving the right to sue for defamation.
In an ironic way, Kuri is almost breaking that silent and unwritten "Pacto de Caballeros" (Gentlemen's Pact) that allows club owners to run the Mexican game and make decisions based on their interests. He's threatened to spill the beans on the way things work in Liga MX and the Mexican federation.
Aside from all that, players are still fighting for bonuses from the successful campaign to save the club from relegation last season, with Kuri criticizing former player Edgar Andrade this past week for bringing it up.
"Edgar, don't forget that I paid 3 million dollars for you; that I was on hand when they kidnapped your mom and I always gave you advice on how to keep growing ...," wrote Kuri, after Andrade had brought it up on a separate message.
Andrade responded by saying Kuri hadn't done much beyond the norm given the circumstances.
"With full respect, Don Fidel, on the topic of my mom, the only thing that happened was that I spoke with you in your apartment and you told me that it was a political matter intended to affect the team," wrote Andrade.
The list goes on. Kuri was also fined earlier this month by Liga MX for asking which teams VAR was being used for after a decision went against Veracruz in their game against Monterrey. The statement had put the neutrality of the officiating into question.
It's not like this is a new thing, either. Kuri has regularly made headlines for things such as acting aggressively towards the refereeing commissioner, not paying wages to players and threatening journalists. There was also a detailed investigation into sexual abuse inside the club's youth system.
If there is a silver lining amidst the wreckage, it is that Kuri, who believes he is being hounded out by the other Liga MX owners, has said he will sell the club at the right price and on the condition that it remains in Veracruz.
We'll see what the price is and whether there is any logic of selling a club at a time when changes in the promotion and relegation system are being discussed, with a possible shift to an even more closed system on the horizon.
So, while they'll likely be a lot of backslapping this week as Monterrey and Tigres lock horns and a Mexican team is crowned king of CONCACAF for the 14th consecutive occasion, cementing Liga MX as the best league in the region, if there is even a grain of truth in the statement that a league is only as good as its weakest team, Liga MX needs to sort out its Veracruz headache.
Other Weekend notes
- Toluca fall short of the playoffs: Two of Liga MX's "big four" -- Chivas and Pumas -- will not be in the playoffs, but the most surprising omission is actually Toluca. The 2-2 tie away to Pumas ended Ricardo La Volpe's team's chances and the left the Argentine to start planning for next season. Decisions didn't go Toluca's way in the game in Mexico City, but the reality is that the early season form gave the Diablos Rojos too much to do in the second half of the regular season.
- Chivas end Leon's winning run: Leon's winning streak crashed to an end at 12 with a loss to Chivas, a club that previously hadn't won in eight. The game -- a 2-1 win to Chivas -- was fairly even. It hinted that Leon isn't as good as recent form has suggested and that Chivas aren't as bad as their recent form. In the end, the result doesn't mean all that much: Leon will be one of the top seeds in the playoffs, while Chivas' players will have already planned their postseason vacations.
- Only two playoff spots remain up for grabs: Tijuana or Puebla will take the last playoff spot, with the two sides facing off next Saturday in Estadio Caliente in the game of the weekend. A tie will be good enough for Xolos in Oscar Pareja's first season in charge. Leon, Tigres, Monterrey, Cruz Azul, Pachuca, Necaxa and Club America are all now confirmed for the postseason.
Player of the Week: Gustavo Bou (Xolos)
Two goals and an assist saw the Argentine come up big at a crucial time in Tijuana's season in the 4-1 away win over Morelia.
Goal of the week: Edwin Cardona (Pachuca)
Bou was close to winning this award as well, but there was something about Cardona's strike that was otherworldly, plus it won the game for Pachuca. Cardona made a remarkable 83 accurate passes during the 1-0 win over Atlas, but for all his attempts to open up the tight defense, it took a strike from 30 meters into the top corner to earn Los Tuzos a vital three points.