For the second year in a row, the only chance to see professional soccer in the Austin area comes in the form of a friendly between two Liga MX clubs at Dell Diamond.
The Austin Aztex of the United Soccer League remain grounded by financial woes. English Premiership giants Manchester United and Manchester City were supposed to play at Royal-Memorial Stadium next week, but that was scrapped because of a scheduling conflict.
So Toluca and Santos Laguna of Liga MX, which generally ranks just above Major League Soccer, will attempt to fill the void at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Triple-A ballpark.
“We know there isn’t much soccer now in the Austin area so this is an opportunity to see two of the top-10 teams in Mexico,” said Juan Carlos Padilla, president of SPD Sports, a Houston promotion company.
“I would appeal in particular to the large Hispanic community in Central Texas. These are teams you see on TV, playoff teams from last season, and now you have a rare chance to see them in person.”
This will be the third Liga MX friendly co-promoted by Ryan-Sanders Baseball. In 2015, Chivas and Pachuca attracted a near-sellout crowd of 11,181, believed to be the second-largest crowd to watch a soccer match in the Austin area. Last year, attendance dipped to 6,608 for Leon vs. Morelia, and organizers expect between 6,000 to 8,000 fans for this year’s match.
Toluca midfielder Rubens Sambueza is the most recognizable name expected to play Wednesday. The 33-year-old from Argentina is a fiery player, not averse to collecting yellow cards, or even red ones.
Sambueza, an excellent playmaker, was awarded the 2015-16 CONCACAF Champions League Golden Ball for his prowess in setting up goals. In 286 Liga MX matches, he has collected 35 goals and 52 assists along with 110 yellow cards and 13 red ones.
The Red Devils of Toluca, located about 40 miles from Mexico City, are celebrating their 100th anniversary season, making the club one of the oldest in Mexico. The Warriors of Santos Laguna, from north central Mexico, are one of the newest teams in the league, just 33 years old.
Santos Laguna has two players on the U.S. national team, but neither will make this trip. Defender Jorge Villafana is on the U.S. Gold Cup roster and started Saturday against Panama, and center back Ventura Alvarado is out with an injury. Jonathan Rodriguez, Santos’ top scorer in 2016-17, also is hurt and won’t play.
Fans should enjoy a 6-foot-3 center/forward who goes by the singular name of Djaniny. He has notched 22 goals in his Santos Laguna career.
Other top Santos players expected to appear at Dell Diamond will be midfielder Osvaldo Martinez, captain and center back Carlos Izquierdoz and goalkeeper Jonathan Orozco.
In the 2016-17 Clausura, the most recent Liga MX season, fourth-place Toluca and fifth-place Santos Laguna met in a quarterfinal series, the Red Devils winning to reach the semifinals, where they were ousted by Guadalajara.
Liga MX soccer
Toluca vs. Santos Laguna
When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Dell Diamond
Tickets: $29 lawn; $35 corner reserved; $45 lower and upper goal; $55 midfield; $85 VIP field seating