Love in Liga MX is forever

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A leg here, an arm there. The head of the federale landed near the Ciudad Juárez soccer stadium. Robert Andrew Powell missed the body-parts dump, along his usual jogging route, by maybe five minutes.

Powell had parachuted into the violence, bloodshed and horror of the world’s most dangerous city in December 2009, embedding into Los Indios after their improbable run to the top flight of Mexican soccer.

He’d document the daily trials of their Clausura season, one of the worst in Liga MX history, and life and death in Juárez for his exceptional “This Love Is Not for Cowards,” published in 2012.

Someone had told him, “When you grow numb, when the murders stop affecting you, that’s when you know you have a problem.” The killings became as casual to Powell his daily jog, but they would sting him.

“I’m feeling the pain, and the pain is telling me that I’m not yet dead … I start to cry,” he wrote at the end of the tome. “I open up and I cry and I cry and I cry. I know I’ve got to get out. I can’t stay here. I’ve got to go.”

FC Juárez visits Club Tijuana on Saturday, squads that represent cities, largely due to wonton drug-cartel mayhem, that became top-10 deadliest regulars 10 years ago. USA Today charted Tijuana (134.24 murders per 100,000 people) at No. 1 in 2019, Juárez (104.54) at No. 2. Six of the top seven were Mexican.

This iteration of Juárez, on La Frontera a short bridge-walk from El Paso, is called Los Bravos. Nicknames change, violence remains.

I contacted Powell to gauge how much of a divergence these teams and matches are to their supporters. From his home in Miami, he wrote in an email how he had been a lifelong professional-sports cynic but had learned how much “good” they can do for a city.

“Soccer on La Frontera is an unalloyed good, a positive, normal thing to be enjoyed,” he said. “Instead of violence or corruption, or any of the thousand other things making life difficult, a team to root for — a local team, in town — is a dependable pleasure. Winning or losing isn’t even that important.

“It is important to remember, though, that they don’t exist in a vacuum. The (Jorge Hank Rhon) family that owns the Xolos in Tijuana have led a local government that fosters impunity and corruption and murder. They’ve been linked to dead bodies.”

Humans adapt, says Powell, from having to wear masks and endure quarantines, to living among so much indiscriminate death.

“It was a learned nonchalance about bodies lying in the street, or even men racing off the street to be shot dead in the lobby at work,” he said. “More optimistically, my time in Juárez taught me that people are fundamentally good. I think about that a lot.”

Powell hopes to return to visit friends, to watch Los Bravos (who struggle often), to again sample the city’s amazing culinary offerings.

“Living in Juárez was a major experience in my life,” he said. “It’s not like I just erased my mental hard drive and moved on. I’m grateful for all I experienced there, as horrible as too much of it was. There is still good in the city.”

Friday

FC Juárez at Club Tijuana, Total 2.5 Under -128: In four home matches, Tijuana has tallied two goals — even winning one. Fewer than 2.5 goals have been tallied in eight of Juárez’s past 10 matches. Dario Lezcano, however, has a four-match scoring streak, and we tap Juárez’s 30-year-old aggressive Paraguayan poacher to net the game’s lone goal. UNDER

Cruz Azul at Mazatlán, Total 2.5 Under -101: Defenders Igor Lichnovsky and Julio Domínguez are Azul’s chief antagonists and main cogs in it allowing a paltry 2.56 shots on target— lowest in Liga MX — per match. Only three total goals have been registered in the previous three games at Estadio de Mazatlán. UNDER

Sunday

Kawasaki Frontale at Urawa, Total 3 Over -113: If it’s on the Westgate SuperBook menu, it’s on our radar. Frontale averages a gaudy 5.12 goals and assists per 90 minutes. (Munich had a 5.06 rate last season.) Kawasaki has won its past four by a combined 16-4. In Urawa’s past six, 24 goals have been tallied. With 12 combined reserve goals, Kaoru Mitoma and Yu Kobayashi strike fear off the Frontale bench. Urawa keeper Shusaku Nishikawa’s 62.7% save rate is 18th in Japan’s 18-team J1 League. OVER

Last week: 0-3

Season: 5-4

About the Author

Rob Miech

Veteran sportswriter Rob Miech covers soccer and does features for Gaming Today. He has written about college hoops for the Las Vegas Sun, CBS SportsLine and the Pasadena Star-News. He is the author of four books, including Sports Betting for Winners.

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