There is a serious amount of soccer on the horizon, and the gentlemen did not want to be left out of the punditry. Once again, Cantina MX panelist & Futmexnation contributor Joel Aceves, and Cantina MX host & El-Tri View columnist John Jagou took the time to enjoy a fine mezcal while discussing the upcoming slate as well as looking back at the Chivas 12th title. We invite you to do the same.
John Jagou: I want to open this latest installment by going back to our January edition – and some predictions that were made.
Joely: Even though the Chivas comet has yet to be spotted, I will venture to say that this will be their year. Two of the top five strongest clubs, Tigres and America, will most likely suffer from no pre-season prep. Then we have Monterrey. Although they finished on a strong note, I suspect Antonio ‘Turco’ Mohamed has lost the locker room. So, that leaves my Chivas taking on either a Xolos or a Pachuca in the final.
Joel Aceves: I had forgotten that Pachuca played in the CONCACAF Champions Cup or else I wouldn’t have pegged them as finalist given that their efforts would be spent on winning that tourney, which they did (at the expense of failing to qualify to Liguilla). And while Tigres did make both finals they do have the most depth of any Liga MX team. Tijuana had another good run and finished the season in first place. We have to wonder if the leaks indicating that Piojo had agreed to sign with America affected the squad going into playoffs. As for Monterrey, the board of directors assessed the situation and bet on Turco giving him a two-year extension. The Argentine will be cleaning house this summer. Last but not least, the Chivas comet finally came into orbit and I reckon they will be there for a good two years.
JJ: My pre-season predictions were only half right. I did peg Pachuca to win the Concachampions, but I also had the gophers lifting the LigaMX trophy. But as we know, there was another team that completed the double. Chivas, as you predicted, won the league and also won the CopaMX.
I have to give you credit for making the pick, but I cannot ignore the fact that despite your prediction, you were bearish on your beloved Chivas for most of the seasons. What has given you the confidence to think that that Matias Almeyda’s gravitational pull is strong enough to keep the Chivas Comet in orbit for the next few seasons?
Joely: Well Yon, the heavy investment made by Chivas in transfers assured that the club remain very competitive. It was a big change from the club’s canterano philosophy that started with previous club owners La Promotora under the guidance of Jose Luis ‘guero’ Real and continued when Jorge Vergara bought the club. His decision to incorporate Dutch coach Hans Westerhoff reinforced the heavy reliance on players from the club’s Youth System. Their goal was an 80-20 balance. But Iin the final against Tigres only two starters were from the cantera. That said, Matias was also fortunate that the two coaches approached to take over his post turned down the offer. After that the Argentine did well to get into Vergara’s good graces, which has given him some security. His relationship, however, with Chivas CEO Jose Luis Higuera might be a whole other issue.
JJ: I am not well versed enough in Chivas to agree or disagree with you about that, but I will say that what impressed me most about Almeyda was his ability to keep the team moving forward in the face of a rash of injuries that would have done in teams in many a league. Case in point, Pumas lost Nico Castillo to the FIFA virus in March (who was the LigaMX leading scorer at the time) and they ended the season collecting 1 point out of 18. They went from comfortably making the liguilla to finishing in 17th place.
Almeyda did not have all his horses, but he was pragmatic enough to have his players play within themselves while mitigating risk. It paid off.
And as for the big money signings, the players that ultimately made a difference when they needed it most were Pulido, Pizarro, and Gallito. The cha-ching chivas.
Joely: Agreed on Almeyda, he was able to instill confidence in a squad that had reached the final having only accumulated one win out of nine games. I had even lost faith that the club could win the league title, especially after seeing Tigres qualify and continue to play at such a torrid level. Tigres’ French attacker Gignac had more goals than all of Chivas combined. Still, it was Pulido who came through showing that he might not be the goleador we all expected, but he is a player that relishes the big games and comes through. IMO, this match was set for Tigres to win but they lacked the confidence when it mattered most. For a team that some were classifying as one of LigaMX’s historical sides, the felines have been accumulating an impressive record of finals lost.
JJ: I know a lot of Tigres fans who were disappointed with another loss in a final. Yes, it was rough. But I had to remind them that before Tuca took over, Tigres were just a team. They were nothing special and had been as such for quite a while. What he has done with them over the past 8 years is remarkable. Do Tigres fans need to be reminded of the fact that the last time they were this consistently good was nearly 40 years ago?
Joely: Tigres fans seem to be suffering from the same case of selective amnesia as Americanistas that celebrated Ricardo Pelaez leaving the club. With my beloved Chivas everyone is still high on the championship win but are overlooking that the team spent loads of money to make it happen. This is a club that has been bankrupt twice in the past 30 years and could easily head down that slippery slope. Just the fact that Chivas renewed their Univision TV deal and had to return to Televisa with their tail tucked between their legs tells me that they are lacking in the cashflow department. Higuera just recently admitted that Gullit Pena was sold for $3.5M to Rangers. What he didn’t admit was that the club suffered a loss of $4.5M dollars as they had bought the player for a cool $8M from Grupo Pachuca. Why would Chivas be willing to take such a loss other than they really could use the money? They are now talking about bringing in Carlos Vela who could easily command very high wages. So, when I think of the Chivas comet finally burning out it will be from financial burdens.
JJ: You and I saw Carlos Vela up close and personal in the LA Coliseum recently. It was evident, at least to me, that he was Mexico’s best player, with Jonathan Dos Santos a close second. Mexico’s upcoming schedule of games are going to be, let’s just say, a little more demanding. Is it time for Juan Carlos Osorio to ditch the wholesale lineup changes from game to game?
Joely: Yon, Osorio should have ditched las rotaciones after the disastrous Copa America Centenario. The fact that he has still been doing them leads me to believe that the Rotaciones Train has no breaks. I am hoping the Confederations Cup would give us a good measuring stick of how well the constant changes work when facing tougher opposition. Group rivals Russia and Portugal should be better competition than what CONCACAF has been able to offer.
JJ: Again, I am OK with switching one or two players based on conditions the game will pose. I am not a fan of the alineacion que gana alineacion que repite method, though. But changing 6-7 players on a game-by-game basis is too erratic for my tastes. Moreover, the gulf between Mexico’s first XI and second XI is wider than most people think.
There are players that have to be riveted into the lineup, and with the 3 games coming up, I can think of quite a few players who fit the profile: Ochoa, Salcedo, Moreno, Guardado, Jona, Tecatito, Chicharito, and Vela. I would add Araujo, but he has a broken finger.
Joely: Agree Yon, to reiterate the level of play in CONCACAF is just not strong enough this cycle to challenge Mexico. One clear indicator of that is the lack of top players from the rival teams. The U.S currently has pinned its hopes on Pulisic, an 18-year old. Honduras doesn’t have a player that stands out the way Suazo, or even Costly, did; neither does Panama or Trinidad & Tobago. Had Mexico been trying to qualify out of CONMEBOL I am sure we would also see the disparity between Mexico’s first and second-string teams.
JJ: The Confed cup will indeed be a good barometer, but the qualifiers right before the tourney will determine how much pressure Mexico will be to make a buen papel. Mexico will be able to play in Russia comfortably, I am just not convinced they will advance past the group stage.
The tournament starts with Portugal. 1 point would be great, 3 outstanding, but a loss is likely. NZ is next. A goleada should not be necessary since Mexico and Russia will play for a spot in the Semis in the final group game. Something tells me, though, that Russia will make it through. It’s just a feeling I have.
Joely: And don’t forget the Gold Cup. Failure in any of these tourneys could cost OSOrio his post. That is if the Liga MX club presidents who make up the FMF already have their own candidates ready to take over.
JJ: The Gold Cup will be a deciding factor in Osorio’s future if and only if the previous 5-7 games take starring roles in a catastrophe.
Even then, I couldn’t imagine the Gold Cup, played with an alternate squad and coached by an assistant, would push the owners to make a change. The wheels would really have to come off for that to come to pass. Of course, we have to preface all of this with “It’s FMF. Come for the futbol, stay for the crazy.”
That said, here are my predictions:
4 points from the Hex games.
Mexico makes semis but loses in penalties to Germany in Confed Cup.
Mexico loses Gold Cup final to US.
Y tú, ese?
Joely: I wouldn’t be surprised at 4pts from the Hex. At Confederations Cup I will go bolder and say Mex fails to get out of their group on goal differential. Gold Cup team loses in semifinals to Panama.
JJ: Well, I don’t think anyone will be questioning your predictive skills anymore. As always, sir, a pleasure. We will do this again soon.
Joely: Hasta luego, Yon.