Santos eyeing repeat, Leo Ramos on fire, and other emerging Liga MX storylines
A cursory glance at Mexico's first division table exposes a dream scenario for league executives. Two of the competition's biggest sides, Club America and Cruz Azul, are on the podium. Both Monterrey squads, consistently pushing for national exposure beyond their regional reach, are in playoff position. Pumas, another blue-chipper, is fourth. If not for Chivas' downturn of late, the Apertura 2018 playoffs would be downright epic.
Amid all the attention rightfully being directed at these clubs, there have been a few unnoticed, under-reported storylines that deserve a share of attention as we close in on the end of the regular season. Here are the top five:
A potential repeat for Santos
There is absolutely no way this team should be in second place and genuinely gunning for back-to-back championships right now. They lost three of their top players prior to the season even starting, and later suffered through a managerial change after a controversial dust-up. And yet, Santos Laguna sits in second place of the Liga MX table, and would be topping it if not for goal difference.
Their offensive prowess is impressive, and the team possesses two of the competition's top scorers in Julio Furch and Jonathan Rodriguez. Somehow, with the exits of both Nestor Araujo and Carlos Izquierdoz, they've managed to hold a steady defensive line.
While all the attention is focused on whether Club America or Cruz Azul can make a title run, it would be silly to discount Santos' chances.
Mexico's next generation on display
Much has been said about Diego Lainez and Roberto Alvarado breaking through in the Apertura 2018, but there are plenty of young gems who have made waves this season. Queretaro's Marcel Ruiz, who is 18, has a lanky physique that suggests a classic number nine or a central defender -- but the central midfielder has some serious footwork that is a welcome surprise for a player of his size. Monterrey's Daniel Lajud (19) was the breakout star of this Copa MX, scoring four times in the competition. He's since been able to accumulate minutes in the league, adding a goal to his tally there.
Toluca's Alexis Vega looks to be a hot transfer target for Chivas next season, the 20-year-old has scored four times this season coming off a serious injury. Pumas' Diego Rosales promises to be a solid prospect on the wings for years to come.
Amid the national team's generational shift, these young guns are coming up at just the right time.
Has Tuca's moonlighting hurt Tigres?
The stark reality of having Latin America's most expensive team is that the bar is going to be set higher than everyone else each season. However, Tigres has struggled in the Apertura 2018, sitting in eighth and barely clinging to a potential playoff spot. With manager Ricardo Ferretti caretaking for the Mexican national team, there's an argument to be made that the split focus has affected his club.
Tigres has a pretty comfortable schedule to wrap up the regular season (Morelia, Chivas, Puebla) with relative ease, but if the team falters in the final stretch, there will be plenty of blame to go around - even for their legendary coach.
The rise of Leo Ramos
Unless you're a Lobos BUAP diehard or follow the Ascenso MX closely, there's a very small chance you knew who Leo Ramos was before this season. Heck, most Liga MX fans couldn't pick him out of a lineup even a month ago. The Argentine striker has had limited experience in first division soccer through his entire career, but a strong showing with Tapachula in Mexico's second division last season earned him a contract with Lobos.
With seven goals in just six games, Ramos is the hottest goal scorer in the league, and his prowess has meant a serious rise in Lobos' form: the team has gotten points in five of the six matches in which Ramos has scored. There's an increasing chance Ramos becomes transfer bait in the winter for a team looking at upgrading their offense.
Veracruz hits rock bottom
Their first coach walked away in protest of the players not being paid on time. At this point, Veracruz's reputation around the league is so low, they couldn't attract a manager from the national market to come in and replace Memo Vazquez. So they went abroad. Enter Juvenal Olmos, who had been away from the touchline for more than a decade. Unsurprisingly, the gambit failed -- and Veracruz is now on its third permanent coach this season.
The team's finances remain in question as well, and the club's owner, Fidel Kuri, has been a consistent negative distraction for both the club and the league itself. Relegation (if it indeed comes back) is a just punishment for this team, which has meandered in mediocrity for far too long.