Can you smell it? It’s the start of a new season, as Liga MX action resumes this weekend after a climactic battle which saw Club América stun Cruz Azul with two late goals and a 4-2 penalty shootout win in the 2013 Clausura final. This weekend I will preview what to watch on the opening weekend of the Apertura 2013 as well as some great Gold Cup quarterfinal matchups and MLS action.
Must Watch Games:
*USA vs. El Salvador
**Sunday, July 21st at 3:00 pm CST on FOX (Coverage starts at 2:30 pm CST)
***Let’s start off with the good ol’ US of A! After spanking both Belize and Cuba by a combined 10-2 goals, the U.S. we just barely able to breach Costa Rica’s stubborn defense through a Brek Shea goal off a corner kick counterattack in the 82nd minute which hoisted the U.S. 1-0 over the Central American side. Now with the new CONCACAF regulation, Klinsmann has revamped his squad going into the knockout round, bringing in Omar Gonzalez, Matt Besler, Eddie Johnson, and Alan Gordon to replace Oguchi Onyewu, Jack McInerney, Herculez Gomez, and Corey Ashe. Klinsmann was the only coach to use all four of his allotted changes, while his counterpart in the game Sunday, El Salvador manager Agustín Castillo, made no changes to his squad that finished third in Group B. El Salvador had a decent performance in the group stage with their only loss coming in a great game 1-0 against group winners Honduras. Normally used as a second striker, Rodolfo Zelaya has been in terrific form this tournament and has all of El Salvador’s goals so far, meanwhile, the U.S. have been getting significant goal scoring contributions from many of its squad but San Jose striker Chris Wondolowski has been in pristine form, finding himself in the right place in the right time to put away 5 goals in the group stage alone.
*México vs. Trinidad and Tobago
**Saturday, July 20th at 5:30 pm CST on Fox Soccer (Coverage starts at 5:00 pm CST)
***Starting off the Group A opener with a very disappointing loss to Panama, México was able to pull itself together and get two important wins over Canada and Martinique to progress to the knockout phase. However, El Trí must continue this winning form if they are to repeat their title. Their first obstacle: Trinidad and Tobago. The small Central American country has had a whirlwind of a Gold Cup so far, showing they can bring it when they face a team of higher quality (beating Honduras 2-0) and yet sputtering against other teams (losing 2-0 to Haiti). Both teams have made changes to their roster, with Trinidad and Tobago bringing on the Columbus Crew’s Kevan George in place of Khaleem Hyland and México swapping defender Darvin Chavez with midfielder Jose Maria Cardenas.
*Cruz Azul vs. Monterrey
**Saturday, July 20th at 5:00 pm CST on Univision Deportes
***Talk about a juicy season opener. Let’s pit the Clausura 2013 Copa MX champions against the 3-time CONCACAF Champions League winners! Monterrey has without a doubt one of the strongest teams in Liga MX. Although they lost a major player in Aldo de Nigris to Chivas, the future of the attack looks to be safe with the signing of 25-year-old Colombian Dorlan Pabon who has been a goal-scoring terror in his homeland over the past few years. With a mix of accomplished experienced players like Humberto Suazo, Jonathan Orozco, Hiram Mier, and Jesus Zavala along with some fiery youth like Jesus “El Tecatito” Corona, Monterrey will be looking to challenge for that elusive Liga MX championship title to go along with their Champions League ones. After losing the final of the Clausura 2013 championship in heartbreaking fashion, Cruz Azul are looking to use the Apertura 2013 as a way to break their 16 year Liga MX title drought. So far, Cruz Azul has done little to alter their strong squad anchored in the back by Mexico international goalkeeper Jesús Corona.
*Real Salt Lake vs. Sporting Kansas City
**Saturday, July 20th at 9:00 pm CST on FirstRowSports.eu
***It’s the Kings of the East versus the Kings of the West as Eastern conference leaders Kansas City travel to the fortress that is Rio Tinto Stadium to take on Western conference leaders Real Salt Lake. Real are unbeaten in 8 games, most recently beating down on the already slumping FC Dallas 3-0 last weekend while Kansas City dished out an identical beating to Toronto FC on Saturday and are unbeaten in their last 5 matches.
*Honduras vs. Costa Rica
**Sunday, July 21st at 6:00 pm CST on Fox Soccer (Coverage starts at 5:30 pm CST)
***Honduras will take on Costa Rica in what is probably the most even matchup of the quarter finals. Honduras may have slipped up in their final match, losing 2-0 to Trinidad and Tobago, but they were still able to finish atop Group B following their wins over Haiti and El Salvador. While this Honduras squad is weaker than we have expected it to be (Oscar Boniek Garcia being the most notable absentee owing to his role in World Cup Qualifying), the Hondurans has made one change to their squad following the end of group play, exchanging Johnny Palacios with fellow defender Erick Norales. Costa Rica has not made any changes to their squad that has easily been one of the best teams in the tournament, crushing Cuba 3-0 and holding the U.S.’s fluid offense for 82 minutes before losing 1-0. Their only stumble in the tournament has been against Belize where they won 1-0 despite needing an own-goal from Belize to put them on the board.
*Panama vs. Cuba
**Saturday, July 20th at 2:30 pm CST on Fox Soccer (Coverage starts at 2:00 pm CST)
***Panama has had an excellent tournament so far, opening Group A action with an impressive 2-1 win over group favorites México and going on to defeat Martinique 1-0 before suffering a disappointing 0-0 draw with Canada. Gabriel Torres has accounted for all of Panama’s goals so far, however, only one of them has come from open play. Cuba were destined to have yet another miserable Gold Cup, losing 3-0 to Costa Rica and 4-1 to the U.S. however they pulled off a miracle on Tuesday when they needed 4+ goals to advance to the knockout phase and they did, winning 4-0 over Belize with a last minute goal from Yénier Márquez.
*U.A.N.L Tigres vs. Club América
**Saturday, July 20th at 7:00 pm CST on FirstRowSports.eu
***Another mouthwatering Apertura 2013 season opener! Tigres has one of the deepest and most talented squads in the Mexican league, yet despite finishing at the top of the regular season table, they were eliminated in the quarterfinals of the Clausura 2013 by Monterrey, their bitter rivals, who also managed to knock them out of the CONCACAF Champions League on their way to claim their third consecutive title. This squad has continued to get better, especially with the addition of highly touted 23-year-old versatile midfielder Guido Pizarro from the Argentine club Lanus. América, on the other hand, is definitely in a rebuilding phase. After winning the Clausura 2013 title in spectacular fashion, Las Aguilas have lost some big players in young Mexican international center back Diego Reyes to Porto and the league’s top goalscorer Ecuadorian Christian Benitez to El Jaish in Qatar (strangely enough). To replace Benitez, América have brought in Colombian goal scorer Luis Gabriel Rey who will look to partner Raúl Jiménez up top once the latter rejoins the club from Gold Cup duty with México.
Written by Cari Gelal