Mexico: Liga de Futbol Americano Profesional kicks off – North Division Preview

Mexico’s LFA (Liga de Futbol Americano Profesional) kicks off its 2019 season this week with the league expanding to eight teams, divided into a North and Central Division.

This will be LFA’s fourth season and it will feature two expansion franchises. Here is an analysis of each one of the four teams in the North Division, the Naucalpan Raptors, Monterrey Fundidores, Saltillo Dinos and the Toluca Osos.


Naucalpan Raptors

The Raptors reached Mexico Bowl III in 2018, marking their first trip to the championship game in theirs history after finishing with a 3-4 regular season record. They were able to win the North Division by defeating the Dinos in the Divisional Championship round. The Raptors were the only team in the North Division to score more points than they allowed after finishing the 2018 regular season with a plus 20 points after 7 regular season games. However, the Raptors still couldn’t manage to score any points in Mexico Bowl III against the Mexicas as they lost in the title game 17-0.

In 2019,  the Raptors are counting once again on their experienced QB Bruno Marquez, the league’s best passer last year. Marquez threw for 1,882 yards, 17 TD, ran for 3 more scores, and completed 162 of 261 passes. He was accompanied by WR Manuel “Many” Barrios, who in his rookie season finished third in the league in receiving yards with 548, on a league-leading 62 catches plus he added 6 touchdowns. The explosive pair made the Raptors the second best passing offense in the league, behind  only the Mayas (1,902 yards).

They will need to complement better their passing game in 2019 with a solid running attack, after finishing second worst in 2018, with only 668 yards. Their leading RB was Luis López, who ended the season with 297 yards and 3 TD on 53 carries, fourth among RBs in 2018.

A big key to the Raptors’ success last season was their formidable defense, which allowed only 1,444 yards thru the air and just 696 on the ground, finishing No.3 in both departments. The “Furious Green” defense is still led by team captain, DL Ricardo Franco, who’s always a handful for any offensive line. Their perimeter is well covered by two of the best in the league, CB Deion Sixto Correa and DB Erick “The Flea” Aguilar, but the star of this unit is DB Fernando Ramírez, who lead the LFA in 2018 with 6 interceptions. They will all need to step up a notch considering the loss of All Time great safety, Luis “Loco” González, who decided to retire after Mexico Bowl III.

To reinforce their defense, the Raptors selected DT José Casarrubias with their first pick in the 2019 LFA Draft. Casarrubias was the best defensive tackle in Mexico’s College Football this past season and is expected to become an instant starter for the North Division Champs in the upcoming season.


Monterrey Fundidores

Owners of the worst record last season, 2-5, the Fundidores (Smelters) from Monterrey have a lot of work to do in 2019 if they want to play in the postseason. Their defense performed outstanding during the 2018 season, allowing the fewest yards both through the air (1,338) and on the ground (639), led by LB Christian Hernández, who led the league in tackles with 40 and DB Sergio Cantú second in the LFA with 4 interceptions. Plus, they had a couple of league leaders in fumble recoveries, LB Julio César López and DB David Villarreal. One thing their head coach, Israel “Tito” González, reminds every time to his defensive players is to try to take away the ball from the opposition, as he did in his playing days as one of the more feared defensive lineman in Mexican College Football with the University of Nuevo León.

After a brief stint in training camp with the NFL New York Giants, DE Tavo González is ready to prove in 2019 that he is the best defensive player in Mexico. As the opportunity to play professional football in the CFL (Canadian Football League) looms over his career, after been selected in the CFL/LFA Draft by the BC Lions last month. He can take over a game, and the Fundidores are counting on him pressuring the quarterback to cause turnovers.

The offense had a number of issues last season, even though they scored the second most points in the league in 2018, their offense could only produce 1,389 yards by passing, second to last, and couldn’t reach 800 yards running the ball. Veteran QB Roberto Vega is expected to improve his 43.4 completion percentage this season, and if healthy he can surpass the 1,000 yards, after falling short by 70 yards last year.

The biggest new weapon for the “Reign of Fire” will be K José Maltos, an internationally well known specialist, who has stepped on the practice field of several NFL teams, and still feels he can play abroad, after being the second overall selection of the CFL/LFA Draft 2019, by the Ottawa REDBLACKS. Maltos can put it through the uprights from 60 or more yards away.


Saltillo Dinos

The Dinos underwent a two game improvement from 2017 to 2018. After finishing their inaugural season with a 2-5 record, first year head coach Carlos Cabral found a way to turn things around in 2018, winning 4 games and finishing in first place in the North Division. This year, for the third time in their three year history the Saltillo team will have a new chief. Gustavo Aadame, former Prepa Tec Head Coach, the premier High School football program in Mexico, and very well known in the state of Texas, for beating some of the best High School teams north of the border, arrives in the capital city of Coahuila to take his team to their first ever Mexico Bowl.

An interesting competition for the starting QB job will unfold this season, as last year’s starter, Francisco Mata who connected for 9 passing touchdowns and completed 54.39% of his passes, will battle former Borregos Salvajes from Monterrey Tech QB, Alejandro García Blancas, a very mobile passer with a great arm, and an outstanding reader of coverages. A key for their success will rest on their pass protection, something the “Purple Wave” couldn’t accomplish in 2018, allowing 27 sacks. Both Mata and García can count on reliable WR Fernando Richarte, who averaged 10.58 yards per reception last season.

On the defensive side of the ball, we can expect another stellar season from DE Ricardo Yañez, after adding 6 sacks to his resume in 2018. Other defensive stars on their roster are LB Daniel Carrete, selected by the CFL Edmonton Eskimos, and former Arena Football shutdown corner, Sergio Schiaffino, picked by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers during the CFL/LFA Draft in January.


Toluca Osos

The new kids on the block, the 2019 expansion team from the State of Mexico’s capital city, the Osos (Bears) plan on becoming instant contenders in their inaugural season. Armed with a veteran passer like Joaquín Juárez, protected by one the LFA’s most powerful offensive lines, and elusive running backs like Octavio Jiménez, Jesús Valderrama and Rodrigo Rascón, the Osos attack looks capable of leading the league in rushing yards right away.

Their head coach is back to back to back World University Champion, Horacio García. As the head coach of Team México he guided the nation’s college players to the 2014 World Championships title in Uppsala, Sweden, 2016 in Monterrey, México and most recently the 2018 title in Harbin, China.

Osos HC Horatio Garcia Photo: ESPN

A nice blend of experience with youth is what the Toluca defense will put on the field in their first campaign. Proven veterans like former NFL player, DT Mauricio “Tyson” López and Shaw University standout LB Roland Green. Other former Mexican College Football stars like DE Humberto Paniagua, LB Ulises Garduño, DB Daniel Oropeza and DB Armando Aguiluz are part of this promising defensive unit.

But their most recognizable star player might well be their kicker, a National Championship Game MVP in 2017, and local hero with Monterrey Tech Toluca campus, Enrique Yenny has a powerful leg, capable of hitting 60 plus yard field goals, with ice running thru his veins. Big reasons why he was selected third overall in the CFL/LFA Draft 2019, by the Montreal Alouettes.