This summer when I visited the Yucatan Peninsula, I got a mild shock to my system. I was told Atlante, a traditional Mexican power who has fallen on hard times lately was coming to the region. I politely asked if we were talking about the same Atlante, the club that has so much success in Mexico City? Yes, the same club and Necaxa was bailing on the capital as well I was told. That left me in utter shock. For me Mexico City had always been the epicenter for football south of border. Sure Chivas was from Guadlajara but for me an interested but disconnected fan of Mexican Football, the capitol was where it all happened, or so I thought.
But with the emergence of such clubs as Pachuca, and Toluca as bona fide powers to rival the traditional powers from the two largest cities, the idea of moving far afield into states and regions with fewer teams has become appealing. Atlante for its part was having trouble even making Estadio Azteca appear one quarter full the past few seasons while Club America with whom Atlante shared the stadium had no problem filling the place. Cruz Azul and UNAM Pumas also have their followings, a hard core fan base both in the capital and throughout the states. Despite tradition Atlante and Necaxa felt they had leave the capital city to keep afloat.
As I mentioned earlier Necaxa the one time club of Dominic Kinnear (See, I found a way to tie this post to MLS and US Soccer after all) bailed on the capital this season after an unsuccessful run the past few seasons. Necaxa’s move improved attendance but not the quality on the field. They failed to make the Apertura Playoffs. Atlante on the hand is in the finals facing one of the three remaining big clubs from the capitol, UNAM Pumas. What is amazing is the Yucatan Peninsula is from my perspective the least football friendly region of the country partly because of the influx of foreigners as tourists and partly because of its disconnect culturally and economically from the rest of the nation. Yet in spite of this Atlante has made a go of its new home and is a weekend of football away from its first league title since 1993.
Mexican football is always compelling to me because inspite of the predominance of big clubs, smaller teams like Atlante and of course Pachuca (who we now think of as a big club but they really aren’t) seem to break through more often than in any other historically strong league in the world. The two leg Apertura Final will be on Telefutura Thursday and Sunday this weekend.