Back from the international break, Week 13 of the 2023 Clausura is now done and dusted! Looking at an overloaded weekend in the top flight of Mexican men's soccer that seemed to make up for lost time, here are three talking points and a few additional observations from Liga MX.
- Liga MX standings | Liga MX coverage on ESPN Deportes
- Futbol Americas on ESPN+: Liga MX, MLS, USMNT, El Tri
Toluca keeper Volpi steps up to the spot (again) in key win
In a highlight-filled weekend that had standouts like Chivas' Miguel "Wacho" Jimenez, Mazatlan's Ricardo Gutierrez and Malagon over at Club America, a special shout-out should be given to Toluca's Tiago Volpi for having an impact both in the defense and attack.
During a 2-1 result over Puebla that kept Toluca at second in the league table, the Brazilian goalkeeper not only made eight saves in the away match, but also scored off a penalty in the 15th minute that would later prove to be the game-winner.
🔥 ¡Goooooooool de Volpiiiiii! El guardameta se anima a pegarle y dóóóóónde la pusoooo 🔥
🎽 Puebla 0-2 Toluca 😈
🔴EN VIVO: https://t.co/09tYQsMwAU— TUDN USA (@TUDNUSA) April 8, 2023
📺: ViX #TuClausura2023 I #Puebla I #Toluca pic.twitter.com/N1GLiWJdpy
Which, believe it or not, is nothing new for the 32-year-old goalkeeper.
Previously scoring twice off of penalties during his time with Queretaro from 2015-19, Volpi also scored a game-winning penalty for Toluca last October in the 92nd minute of a 4-3 playoff victory over Santos Laguna. In the same month, he also provided a long-range assist off a goal kick in the same quarterfinal playoff series that Toluca would win ahead of an eventual run to the final.
His stats alone since last summer (No. 1 in Liga MX for total saves and No. 4 for goals prevented, via TruMedia/StatsPerform) are enough to make him an impact player in net, but don't overlook what he can do in the attack either.
Tigres out a coach once more as season on brink
It's never a good sign when your fans begin to boo you before a game.
Coming off of three consecutive losses in Liga MX play, Tigres' now former manager Marco Antonio "Chima" Ruiz was jeered and booed by local supporters on Saturday ahead of a match against bottom-of-the-table Mazatlan. Disappointed with the assistant coach that replaced manager Diego Cocca, who abruptly left in early February to take a job with Mexico's national team, Ruiz had serious issues leading his talent-heavy roster over the last two months.
In what should have been a straightforward game at home against Mazatlan (FiveThirtyEight gave the visitors only a 10% chance for a win), Tigres shot themselves in the foot with a shocking 2-1 loss, marking the first time in over a decade that they've suffered four straight defeats at home. Once in first place in the first few weeks of the season, Tigres have since dropped to 7th in the table and then dropped Ruiz himself on Sunday night after earning a 3W-1D-5L record in his brief stint.
"We want to inform our fans that Club Tigres has made the decision to terminate Marco Antonio 'Chima' Ruiz's contract as manager of our team. We thank 'Chima' for the willingness and bravery he had to take on this project," read a statement from the club.
With a roster like Tigres' that ranks at third in the league for total market value (according to Transfermarkt), the new manager wasn't given much space for error, especially when four consecutive losses emerged at home. Whether it proves to be the right decision or not, the choice to drop Ruiz is another example of the trigger-happy nature that Liga MX ownership has with its near-chaotic level of coaching changes.
For example, during Ruiz's tenure that lasted just 60 days, a total of four Liga MX teams (Club Tijuana, Cruz Azul, Pumas and FC Juarez) recently made coaching changes. Since last year, all but two clubs (Pachuca and Toluca) have hired or fired a manager. There are few long-term projects in Liga MX, and with Tigres announcing that Robert Dante Siboldi as their coach on Monday, odds are that he won't be given much time either -- that is unless if he quickly wins a Liga MX or CONCACAF Champions League title before the end of the season.
Aguilas' Malagon breaks out as Zendejas breaks nose
When Luis Malagon made the leap from Necaxa over to Club America in the winter, the immediate assumption was that the goalkeeper would be a natural replacement for El Tri standout Guillermo Ochoa, who had left Club America to join Italy's Salernitana last December.
Malagon, often recognized as having some of the best reflexes in Liga MX, instead had to wait three months while he watched perennial Club America backup Oscar Jimenez get the start in his place. Things didn't go smoothly with Jimenez in net, leaving Malagon with a chance to make his debut last month.
By Saturday and with three games under his belt, he then finally got his opportunity to become the hero at the Estadio Azteca.
In a back-and-forth battle against a first place Monterrey side that headed into the Azteca with a 12-game undefeated streak, Club America found themselves up 2-1 in the final stages of the second half, before allowing a penalty. With a clear cut moment to make it 2-2 in the 90th minute and potentially extend Monterrey's streak to 13 games, midfielder Joao Rojas stepped up to take the penalty, which was then halted by Malagon. Minutes later, Club America would go on to secure three points and a move up to third in the table.
"It's one of the happiest nights of my life," said the 26-year-old goalkeeper and Man of the Match after the 2-1 victory.
Club America have found their leader in net, and looking ahead, Malagon could also be a key figure for the Mexican national team. In a new era under Cocca that is in desperate need for a generational change, the goalkeeper can make a strong case for a deserved international debut if he can continue shining for one of Liga MX's biggest teams.
In fact, it wouldn't be much of a shock to see Malagon earn a call-up this month. With a friendly against the United States on April 19 landing on a non-FIFA date, Cocca is expected to utilize a Liga MX-heavy roster, which could possibly feature the Club America hero.
Meanwhile, U.S. men's national team midfielder Alejandro Zendejas fractured his nose in the win, which will require surgery after the end of the Liga MX season in late May. That could prove significant as his recovery timetable will be four to six weeks, which could preclude him for featuring in the final rounds of the CONCACAF Nations League in June.
- Elsewhere in Week 14: Queretaro claimed their second victory in a row in a 2-1 away win over Club Tijuana, Chivas' Pavel Perez scored the game-winner in a narrow 1-0 result against Necaxa, Leon and Cruz Azul slumped to a scoreless draw, Pumas earned their first three points in the Antonio Mohamed era with a 3-1 victory over Atletico San Luis, current champions Pachuca thrashed Santos Laguna 4-1, and nine-man FC Juarez held 10-man Atlas to a 1-1 draw.
- Last Tuesday, Liga MX referee Fernando Hernandez was given a 12-game suspension due to kneeing Leon's Lucas Romero in the groin during a regular season match in Week 13.
- The CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal round wraps up this week with the second of two legs. Leon (won first leg, 5-0) will visit Violette on April 11, Atlas (lost first leg, 1-0) will host the Philadelphia Union on April 12, and Tigres (won first leg, 1-0) will host Motagua on April 13. LAFC (won first leg, 3-0) also host Vancouver Whitecaps on April 11.