Liga MX end-of-season awards: Rodriguez best player, Monterrey best team
Mexican soccer never really seems to stop with the two Liga MX seasons per year, plus the Mexican national team's frequent engagements, but we now have a little breathing space. Monterrey's title win in a holiday-period final drew a line under the 2019 Apertura and leaves Mexican soccer with no meaningful games until the 2020 Clausura kicks off on Jan. 10.
Fear not. That mini-break gives a brief pause for reflection and, with that in mind, here's a look back at 2019 in Mexican soccer, with a series of awards.
Best overall Liga MX player
Guido Rodriguez | MF | Club America
Blasting the ball over the crossbar in the 2019 Apertura final might just have been Rodriguez's last act in Liga MX, but the defeat has done nothing to wreck a sensational year for Rodriguez. The Argentina international's contract with Club America is running out next summer, and while Las Aguilas will do everything possible to get him to sign a new one and, therefore, receive a substantial transfer fee if he does move on, it all points to 25-year-old Rodriguez moving to Europe either in January or next summer.
Rodriguez, 25, played 40 Liga MX games in 2019 and is America's most important player. The way Rodriguez pins together the Mexico City side and breaks up opposition attacks with both his physicality and his reading of the game makes him the most formidable midfielder in the league. Statistically, Rodriguez won 59.5% of duels, was top in Liga MX in 2019 in ball recoveries (337) and even had 0.57 shots on goal per game despite playing in a mainly defensive role.
In short, Rodriguez dominated Liga MX games more than any other player in 2019, and if he does make that move to Europe -- Real Betis and Getafe have reportedly shown interest -- there will surely be more Argentina caps coming for Rodriguez this next decade.
Best Mexican Liga MX player
Hugo Gonzalez | GK | Necaxa
This isn't the most obvious choice, and Gonzalez isn't the highest-profile player, but the San Luis native had an outstanding year. Crucially, where other Mexican players had good runs of form and then dipped, Gonzalez was remarkably consistent.
In the end, this award came down to two Mexican goalkeepers: Leon's Rodolfo Cota and Necaxa's Gonzalez. Both keepers were key factors in their teams over-performing in 2019. Gonzalez was solid at shot-stopping, outperforming his predicted goals against by two goals, but it was his commanding authority -- Gonzalez only dropped one cross all year -- of the penalty area that sees the 29-year-old take the award. He exuded solidity and confidence that was then transmitted to the rest of the team.
It's difficult to think Necaxa would have reached the quarterfinal of the 2019 Clausura -- where Los Rayos only went out to Monterrey due to regular-season finishing position after the score was tied -- and the Apertura semi without Gonzalez's performances.
Given the 2019 he's had, it's no wonder parent-club Monterrey renewed Gonzalez's contract for two years. He'll remain at Necaxa for the 2020 Clausura, but he'll surely be back at Rayados as the permanent No. 1 after that.
Best Mexican player abroad
Raul Jimenez | FW | Wolves
A no-brainer. Jimenez has shattered expectations in the Premier League, become a fundamental piece of Wolves' starting XI under Nuno Espirito Santo.
Former Club America striker Jimenez has hit the back of the net 34 times in 2019 and created 16 assists over 64 official games for club and country. In other words, he has contributed directly to a goal in three of every four games he has played, and in the process, Jimenez has become the starting striker for El Tri, a position he's unlikely to relinquish anytime soon.
Best Mexican young player
Jose Juan 'JJ' Macias | MF | Leon (Guadalajara for '20)
When is it time to get excited about a young striker? The examples of teenagers having a good season or two and dropping off are plentiful. But all signs point to Macias being here to stay given his determined character, professionalism and focus on becoming a top player.
Macias, who turned only 20 in September, led the line for loan side Leon in 2019 and did so on a level that was above average in Liga MX. Eighteen goals in 36 Liga MX games is a strong return, especially considering Macias is a striker who at times drops deeper and gets involved with the build-up play.
A mention also needs to be made here about Monterrey's Carlos Rodriguez. His display against Liverpool in the Club World Cup was an indicator of just how high the midfielder's ceiling is and he would've won this award but for some inconsistent form when Monterrey was struggling early in the Apertura.
Best Liga MX coach
Ignacio 'Nacho' Ambriz | Leon
Leon fans weren't happy when Ambriz was appointed coach of the club in September 2018. The former Mexico international had a reputation for producing defensive sides, and he has never won a Liga MX title as a manager. But Leon has been sensational in 2019. La Fiera scored more goals than any other club, won three more games than the rest and did so consistently playing the best soccer in the league, taking the game to the opposition. (Only Tigres had higher average possession per game.)
Ambriz's Leon ran out of steam in the Clausura final against Tigres, but bounced back in the Apertura to finish second in the regular reason. The loss to Morelia in the Apertura quarterfinal was the only real stain on the year for Ambriz, but looking to the future, a title for Ambriz and Leon in 2020 would consolidate what has so far been an extremely successful partnership.
Club of the year
It's been a strange year for Monterrey, with Diego Alonso leaving the club in September and Antonio Mohamed coming in. But even if Rayados struggled to make the Apertura playoffs, the year has ended with Monterrey as the Liga MX and CONCACAF champions. On top of that, Rayados won plaudits at the Club World Cup, where they finished third and came close to taking Liverpool to extra-time.
Every other club in Liga MX would love to have had the year Monterrey had.
Quote of the year
"Everything is possible in this world." -- Liga MX president Enrique Bonilla to ESPN FC, when asked about plans for a joint league with MLS.
The Liga MX-MLS partnership may not have caught fire yet among fans in North America, but 2019 is the year in which talk became reality. The Leagues Cup started up, the Liga MX-MLS All-Star game was announced for 2020 and ESPN even learned that MLB could provide a blueprint for future inter-league play.
Into 2020 and beyond, the relationship between Liga MX and MLS will continue to grow and, as Bonilla suggested, there is no limit to where it could potentially extend.
It has to be Veracruz. Mexican soccer threw up a candidate for the world's worst club. Veracruz didn't pay wages, botched a protest and ended the year by being disaffiliated from Liga MX. All the while, Veracruz owner Fidel Kuri fired verbal shots at everyone and anyone.
It was an ugly episode for Mexican football, and it'll have to be the last of its sorts if Liga MX truly wants to branch out and become more of a global league.