Liga MX is the top level of club soccer in Mexico. The League is the most competitive in North America and has the highest attendance average for soccer matches in the Americas and sits in third place for attendance among all sporting events in the region behind the NFL and MLB.
The league can be confusing for soccer fans in the U.S. and even longtime European football fans but it is really not that complicated.
The 18-team league’s schedule is divided in two ‘tournaments’ with 2 champions per season. The season opens with the apertura or ‘opening tournament’ that runs from July through December. The Clausura tournament, ‘closing tournament’, runs from January to May. This is a common method used in Latin America and is based on the summer to spring format used in Europe as well.
A liguilla or ‘little tournament’ is played after the apertura and Clausura. These are in essence the playoffs for each tournament with the top 8 teams progressing to play two-leg ties until a winner is determined. The winner is awarded the First division trophy while the runner-up gets a smaller version of the trophy. The liguilla was introduced in the 1970’s.
A system of promotion/relegation is used in Liga MX but it should come as no surprise it is not similar to any of the ones used in Europe. One team is relegated from Liga MX to Ascenso MX after each season (Apertura and Clausura tournament) but is based on a points per game ratio over the last 3 seasons and NOT the team that finishes at the bottom of the table that season. The team with the lowest ratio is relegated.
The team promoted from Ascenso MX is determined through a 2-leg playoff between the winners of the apertura and clausura tournaments. If the same team wins both tournaments they are automatically promoted to Liga MX.
CONCACAF hosts an annual continental competition, the CONCACAF Champions League, based on the UEFA Champions League format and name for that matter, with 4 teams advancing from Liga MX. The 4 teams that represent Liga MX are the winners and runners-up from the Apertura and Clausura tournaments.
Liga MX has implemented a system to insure that the Apertura and Clausura each have 2 representatives to the Champions League each season.
The system allows for: 1) the non-finalists with the best records from the Apertura and Clausura tournaments to qualify IF the same 2 teams advance to the liguilla finals. 2) the non-finalists with the best record in the Clausura qualifies when the same team wins the Apertura and Clausura but faces different teams in the finals. 3) The non-finalists with the best record in the Apertura qualifies when the Apertura runners-up win the Clausura but face 2 different teams in the finals. 4) The non-finalists with the best record from the Clausura qualifies when the Apertura champions are the Clausura runners-up facing different teams in each final.