Soccer never stops. When it feels like it is going to pause the leaders of the industry like to add friendlies or even extra competitions to the calendar. In their eternal quest for American money, MLS and Liga MX partnered to create a secondary competition — the Leagues Cup, which is essentially a revitalized SuperLiga. The four best clubs from each league that didn’t make Concacaf Champions League compete in this new tournament.
When talking about the best in MLS, the list will always include Seattle, and for the past decade the list for LIga MX will include Tigres UANL. Sounders are returning to the international stage in an attempt to pick up the only scale of trophy they’ve never won. To do that they will have to beat a Tigres side that may be the best in the confederation over the past 18 months.
Tigres did play over the weekend, a 1-1 draw to Santos Laguna. Seattle will have a bit more rest, some home cooking, and the possibility that fewer of their players remain injured.
For FMF State of Mind, Eugene answers Three Questions.
SaH: In the last year and a half, during the pandemic, Tigres have picked up international wins over NYCFC, LAFC, Olimpia, Ulsan Hyundai, and Palmeiras. Are they just that into global domination?
FMFSoM: Short answer: yes.
Longer answer: Tigres have always had this aura that they wanted to be the best club not only in Mexico but in the world. Of course most clubs want that, but Tigres are one of the richest clubs in Mexico, partly owned by Cemex which is the fifth-largest building materials company in the world and is traded on the New York Stock Exchange. They have the financial muscle to compete with clubs elsewhere, for instance recently landing Florian Thauvin away from Marseille despite interest from Atlético Madrid. Despite this however, prior to 2020 they’d never won the Concacaf Champions League, with striker André-Pierre Gignac famously quipping “Por fin ganamos esta pinche copa (We finally won that f*cking cup).” It was a gigantic albatross around their neck, despite winning the league five times since the 2011 Apertura. They expect trophies, and former manager Ricardo “Tuca” Ferretti’s dismissal at the end of last season was in part because they finished 10th in the league and were knocked out in the repechaje (think wild-card round in American football or baseball) by Atlas. It didn’t matter that earlier that year they went toe-to-toe with Bayern Munich in the Club World Cup: after an 11 year tenure as head coach (an eternity in Mexican soccer), he was out.
Tigres’ commitment to winning isn’t limited to just their men’s team. Tigres Femenil (their women’s team) are the reigning Liga MX Femenil champions. They have featured in every league final except one since the start of the league in 2017 and are arguably one of the top women’s teams in the Western Hemisphere.
SaH: The Tigres attack can steamroll the best sides in Liga MX. What’s the best way to slow them down?
FMFSoM: Right now they’re a club in transition. Ferretti’s style was possession-heavy and patient, but Miguel “Piojo” Herrera’s style is more smash-mouth fútbol. His style was on display in both of his stints with Club América, with Club Tijuana, and to a degree the Mexican National Team as well. Tigres however are really stuck between the two systems, with players that were under Ferretti for years now being asked to do something completely different. Santos did an excellent job in the first half of their match on Saturday. They play a high press (think New York Red Bulls under Jesse Marsch or the Philadelphia Union under Jim Curtin), forcing players to make mistakes and capitalizing on them. It gave Tigres absolute fits, with players at times unable to complete a sequence of more than two or three passes before knocking it out of bounds or to an opposition player.
Tigres also isn’t a very deep team, and they’re already going to be without Gignac, who missed the Santos game with sprained knee ligaments and a bone bruise picked up in the Olympics. They may decide it’s not worth it to go to Seattle, play their starters, and then have to go to Puebla for a league match on Friday.
SaH: Did Miguel Herrera rest anyone in that league draw against Santos Laguna?
FMFSoM: Sort of. Midfielder Guido Pizarro missed the game having picked up a red card against Toluca the week before, and Thauvin picked up a red card in the 34th against Santos for a horrific tackle on Omar Campos that resulted in a grade 2 sprain. Nicolás “El Diente (The Tooth)” López was subbed out for Luis Quiñones at the half, so both of those players should be fairly rested. Quiñones has played in Mexico for five years and is one of the long-timers that has been with Tigres for six seasons now while Diente is a very promising forward who had stints in Italy and most recently with Brazil’s Internacional before going to Tigres in before the start of the 2020 Clausura.That said, Tigres are in 10th place with four points after three games and I can’t imagine Piojo Herrera is very comfortable with their place on the table. He may decide this isn’t worth it and give the U20s and bench players their chance to impress.
Check out all of FMF State of Mind’s Leagues Cup, Liga MX, and Liga MX Femenil coverage.