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Who is that masked man?! Zendejas the hero Club America needed vs. Cruz Azul

Week 15 of the 2023 Clausura is now done and dusted! Looking back at a busy weekend in the top flight of Mexican men’s soccer, here are three talking points and some additional observations from Liga MX.

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Masked man Zendejas the hero Club America needed

It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s… Alejandro Zendejas! Sporting a mask in Saturday’s Clasico Joven to protect his recently fractured nose, the U.S. men’s national team winger stepped up as the hero for Club America with two goals in a 3-1 win over Cruz Azul.

Initially heading into the weekend with doubts following last week’s injury, the 25-year-old Zendejas did get the nod in Club America’s recent XI, with a distinct black mask covering part of his face but doing little to impact his abilities. Zendejas was the star for the high-flying Aguilas with his two-goal tally that helped brush aside his team’s crosstown rivals who went down to 10 men in the first half.

Thanks to Zendejas and the win, Club America moved up to second in the league table and are looking like strong title contenders with just two weeks left in the regular season. With a four-point cushion over fifth-place Leon, they’re also close to securing their spot in the top four, which would let them bypass the play-in round of the playoffs and enter in the quarterfinal stage.

While the injury to his nose likely won’t affect his club availability for the rest of the season, it could limit his summer status with the USMNT. Offseason surgery will be required, from which he’ll need four to six weeks to recover.

If America reach the Liga MX playoffs but get bounced before the quarterfinals, Zendejas might recover in time for the CONCACAF Nations League semifinal between the U.S. and Mexico on June 15. But if Club America make a deep run into the Liga MX playoffs, the recovery time would likely rule him out for the Nations League matches, and also possibly part of the Gold Cup as well.

This all poses an interesting question: Will USMNT fans root against Club America in the playoffs?

Chivas’ Paunovic not into Almeyda comparisons, yet

Chivas manager Veljko Paunovic still has a long way to go before reaching the same heights as former coach Matias Almeyda, but at the very least he seems to be on the right path in his first season.

With an impressive 2-0 away win over Leon on Saturday, the former Chicago Fire and Reading manager has now equaled Almeyda’s two best regular-season tallies of 28 points during the 2016 Clausura and Apertura seasons. Almeyda, who is currently coaching AEK Athens in Greece, led a golden period for Chivas that saw them collect five trophies during a three-year span, including a league title in 2017 and the CONCACAF Champions League in 2018.

Paunovic is well aware of what Almeyda was able to accomplish with Chivas, but also wants to create his own story with the Guadalajara club.

“Here I have Matias Almeyda as the benchmark, I’ve always said that. He’s an idol here, but I’m looking for my own legacy,” Paunovic said after the weekend’s victory. “We have a group that knows how to win. The whole team has rolled up their sleeves to continue working.”

A crucial part of that group is winger/forward Alexis Vega. Since returning from an injury in March, the playmaker has been pivotal with his decision-making that led to two highlight-worthy assists in the result over Leon.

Despite a slight dip in form for the team earlier this month, a current spot at fourth in the table and an 8W-4D-3L record points to a promising buildup for Chivas before Paunovic’s first playoff run with the Liga MX giants. He’s no Almeyda yet and must earn some championships before serious comparisons are made, but it’s becoming clear this season that the possibility of gaining that first trophy is getting stronger with each passing week.

Liga MX pair could make Mexico debuts amid injury crunch

In case you missed the announcement from last week, Mexico manager Diego Cocca announced a 23-man roster that will take part in a friendly Wednesday against the U.S. at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. Due to the friendly landing in a non-FIFA window, 22 of the 23 players were called up from Liga MX, leaving Barcelona‘s Julian Araujo as the lone player from abroad on the roster.

However, Cocca made two additional call ups on Sunday following injury concerns for Club America’s Henry Martin and Chivas’ Roberto Alvarado. In their place, LA Galaxy‘s Efrain Alvarez and Toluca’s Edgar Ivan Lopez were brought in.


Would a loss vs. USMNT cost Mexico’s Cocca his job?

Herc Gomez and Sebastian Salazar discuss the pressures facing both Mexico and USMNT ahead of their clash in April.

This leaves Cocca and Mexico with a possibility that the starting striker this Wednesday could be a Liga MX player making an international debut. Both Pachuca’s Roberto de la Rosa and Toluca’s Lopez are now the only out-and-out forwards left in the roster and both of the 23-year-olds have yet to earn any minutes for the senior national team.

The more experienced Vega could play up top for Mexico, as he has done in the past with Chivas, but that would lead to more of a false No. 9 setup that would undoubtedly be an experiment in Cocca’s highest-profile game so far.

Additional observations

– Elsewhere in Week 15: Atletico San Luis moved up to 10th with a 2-0 win over FC Juarez, Puebla earned a second-half equalizer in a 1-1 away draw with Necaxa, a brace from Alexis Canelo pushed Club Tijuana to a 2-1 victory against Mazatlan, Julian Quiñones scored twice in a 4-1 thrashing of current champions Pachuca, Antonio Mohamed’s Pumas defeated Toluca 3-1, Queretaro and Tigres finished in a scoreless draw, and Harold Preciado scored a dramatic 94th-minute game winner for Santos Laguna in a 2-1 away victory over Monterrey.

EltasZone Sportswriters, Sports Analysts, Opinion columnists, editorials and op-eds. Analysis from The Zone Team
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