Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Randomness of Mexican Soccer

One of the striking features of Mexican club soccer, at least when compared to the European model, is the lack of dominance. There is no equivalent to Barca and Real's two-horse race, or the four straight titles from Inter Milan, or the big four providing all of the competition in England. In the past seven tournaments, seven different teams have won the title in Mexico. In the 20 tourneys of the past decade (Mexico has two seasons per year), nine different teams have taken home a trophy. By contrast, seven Spanish teams have accounted for every title in La Liga since the mid-1940s.

The Mexican leagues resembles less the parity of the NFL than the randomness of the NCAA tournament. Teams are great until all of a sudden they suck, with little explanation for the change. Take Chivas of Guadalajara, who opened the season with a record-setting eight consecutive wins. They lost their ninth to a team that hadn't won at home in almost a year, comprehensively bested by a score of 4-0. And it wasn't even a shocker; in the majority of the pre-game comments on the matchup, analysts were picking Jaguares to win. Chivas then looked really flat in a goalless draw in their following game, and lost another this past weekend. Most seem to agree that Chivas is a good but flawed team, rather than a potentially great team struggling through a rough patch.

The timing of Chivas's run had consequences for all of Mexican soccer. The revelation of the year for Mexican soccer has been Javier Chicharito Hernández, the previously unheralded 21-year-old striker from Guadalajara who began scoring goals in bunches this season. Called up to the national team for the first time in February, in the midst of Chivas' streak, he has scored four goals (two of them really quality efforts) with the big team in three games, and now seems a lock to be on the South Africa squad. But the emergence of Chicharito on the national team seems as much as anything a question of luck; had Chivas not been on such a hot run, which is to say had they played to their potential, Hernández would have just been one more promising forward off to a good start, and may well never have gotten the look from Mexican coach Javier Aguirre.


Tom - Chicago said...

How much money is spent gambling in Mexico on soccer games? How much corruption would be tolerated? They're throwing games my friend...

pc said...

With all the gambling and all the dirty money in Mexican soccer, I definitely wouldn't be surprised to find individual examples of match-throwing or ref-buying or something along those lines. But unless it was just a gigantic conspiracy in which everybody agreed to spread the victories around and all the media members agreed to play along, even that wouldn't explain the random ups and downs. I mean if you compare it to Italy, there was match-buying and all over there, but the same teams continued winning. It wasn't a method for a previously non-competitive team to stay with the big boys, which is what happens in Mexico.