Now, more than ever, you should be watching Liga MX
MEXICO CITY -- The greatest international rivalry in North American sports resumes on Tuesday night when the U.S. meets Mexico in a World Cup qualifier (10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN, Univision), and for 90 minutes the tension will be overwhelming, whether you're watching on TV or in the Thunderdome known as Estadio Azteca. It doesn't matter if you're a huge soccer fan; this is the best of what sports is about.
But in the bigger picture, the real story is the coming-together of Mexico and the United States, which are two separate soccer nations on Tuesday but are increasingly mixing into one on every other day. The U.S.-Mexico rivalry is mutually beneficial for everyone, ratcheting up interest on both sides of the border. And with the rising Mexican league presence of U.S. players -- Hérculez Gómez, DaMarcus Beasley, José Torres, Joe Corona and others -- there's more reason than ever for U.S. national team fans to watch Liga MX on U.S. television.
And believe me, there are plenty of Mexican league games available on U.S. TV: 377 in 2012 alone, or more than MLS (327) and the English Premier League (374). That number figures to only increase now that ESPN has acquired the English-language broadcast rights for several Liga MX teams.
"When people move from one country to another, they bring their most trusted personal assets with them," says Juan Carlos Rodríguez, the president of Univision Deportes, which has the U.S. Spanish-language rights for 13 of the 18 Mexican league teams. "For people who come from Mexico, their team is a big part of it. Mexico as a national team becomes a matter of pride, and with the [club] teams it's part of your DNA when you come to the States."
What's more, the Mexican league style is highly watchable. "Even though it's a league that has a lot of tradition, it's pretty innovative," says Gómez, the U.S. forward who plays for Santos Laguna. "A lot of these teams like to play a possession style of attack. They have a lot of attacking flair, keeping the ball and having your possession be your defense."
The links between Mexico and the U.S. only figure to increase in upcoming years as Mexican club teams scout young players from the U.S. and the two countries' federations continue competing over landing players who are eligible to play for both countries.
So give Liga MX a watch. As a service to readers, I asked my friend Pedro Arellano, a Mexican-born Chivas de Guadalajara fan living in California, to put a list together. So here it is:
Some things are just better in Spanish. Professional wrestling, morning television shows, cursing, Sofía Vergara, the list goes on. Vibrant and colorful, the language of Cervantes can instantly make any event seem many times más interesante. The same applies to soccer. Spend enough time listening to Spanish-language fútbol broadcasts and, even if you don't understand the announcers, you'll soon agree their thunderous exuberance can make Ray Hudson sound like he's calling a golf tournament.
Here's a list of my favorite Spanish-language soccer TV commentators in the United States:
5. John Laguna (Fox Deportes). Imagine you're listening to "Walk on the Wild Side" by Lou Reed when your iPod abruptly skips to Iron Maiden's "Aces High." That's what a John Laguna broadcast feels like. Fox Deportes' main play-by-play man for the English Premier League and the UEFA Champions League, Laguna has a volume control with only two settings: subdued and OHMYGODWHATISHAPPENING!!!!!!!!!!
4. Fernando Palomo (ESPN). A former track & field athlete at Texas A&M, the host of ESPN Deportes' Fuera de Juego brings refreshing polish, objectivity and class to a network that employs Skip Bayless. Recently tapped as the network's commentator for Mexican national team games in English, Palomo has a keen sense of game flow and expertly matches the rhythm of his delivery to the speed of the action on the field.
3. Pablo Ramírez (Univision). A 6'5" former goalkeeper nicknamed "La Torre de Jalisco" (the tower of Jalisco), Ramírez is a polarizing figure among fans. Some enjoy his campy style and unique calls ("GOLAZO! AZO! AZO! AZO!") while others can't stand his random, off-topic conversations with color analyst Jesús Bracamontes. (Daytime soap operas and unrelated trivia are frequent topics.) Love him or hate him, Ramírez earns points for hilariously inspired moments like Teal Bunbury's goal against Chile in 2011 ("I like that Boon-boo-ree, I like that Boon-boo-ree!") and his brilliantly risqué "SE LA PEEEE... RDIÓ!!!"
2. Jorge Ramos (ESPN). "El Relator de las Américas" is an energetic figure whose commentary combines the same jovial atmosphere of his popular radio show with high tension and intense drama. His broadcasts can be thrilling experiences that, by the final whistle, can make you feel as if you were part of the game. A native of Uruguay, Ramos is well known for his encyclopedic knowledge of the beautiful game, his distaste of the helmet-and-pads version of football (which he dismissively calls "tackle-ball"), and his cheerful signoff: "Don't be afraid to be happy."
1. Andrés Cantor (Telemundo). The gold -- or, should I say, GOOOOOOOOLd -- standard. Introduced to mainstream U.S. audiences during the 1994 World Cup, Cantor is soccer passion personified. He doesn't narrate a game as much as he channels it, masterfully bringing viewers along for the ride. A veteran of numerous World Cups and Olympic Games, Cantor excels at controlling the tempo of a broadcast, raising and dropping the tension of his play-by-play, emphasizing pivotal moments ("Qué momento!") and, of course, crowning scoring plays with his now legendary call. In addition to being the most exciting soccer announcer in any language, Cantor demonstrates impressive knowledge and exemplary professionalism. (His 2003 pre-game salute to longtime booth partner Norberto Longo, who had died the previous day, is one of the most moving moments I've seen.) Here's Cantor at his best calling Landon Donovan's 2010 goal against Algeria. And you thought Ian Darke had a monopoly on that moment.