Time for Some Upgrades

46 years ago, Mexico staged what many folks believe was the finest World Cup in history, even to this day.  The 16 team tournament only needed 5 stadiums to schedule games.  The facilities that had the honor were the Estadios Azteca, Jalisco, Cuauhtemoc, Nou Camp, and Toluca’s Bombonera.

Amazingly enough, 46 years later those stadiums are still being used today; they are the home stadiums for America, Atlas, Puebla, Leon, and Toluca.  And sure, they have been renovated over the years.  Some more than others.  One’s bandages are about to be removed.puebla

Puebla’s newly renovated Cuauhtemoc will open its doors for the first time since its face lift this weekend.  It was quite the nip and tuck.  Even though the new facade has been compared to a commode, it is a marked improvement to a stadium that had been condemned not that long ago.

It could be the start of a new arms race in Liga MX. Monterrey debuted a gorgeous new stadium in time for the Apertura 2015 season.  And just last week, Grupo Pachuca announced that they have started discussions about upgrading their playing grounds in Leon, although those talks are in the very preliminary stages.  The group is ready to finance the entire deal, provided the State of Guanajuato donates the land.  Stay tuned.

A city that is in desperate need of some new digs is Mexico City.  Estadio Azteca was quite the marvel in the 1960’s when it opened.  It was the inspiration for the modernization of NFL stadiums, with its verticality and multitude of luxury boxes.  Despite the occasional face lift, time has not been kind to the Coloso. Has anyone had to use the restrooms there?  Before you start hyperventilating and expecting the worst, let’s rip off the band aid early.  Yes, it is time to replace the Azteca.  It happens.  Wembley has been replaced, Highbury as well, as has Yankee Stadium.   Their fans survived.

So, it is a question of when, rather than if.

Financing for the projects will most likely be private.  There have been a few stadiums that have gone online since Mexico last hosted a World Cup in 1986, each with their own cautionary tale.

necaxaEstadio Victoria – Aguascalientes

The stadium was built as the new home for one of Mexico’s oldest clubs, Necaxa, who moved away from Mexico City.  The stadium delivered a modern structure to host games.  Unfortunately, the team’s front office could not deliver a team the fans wantd to see.  The shininess wore off, fans stopped coming, and Necaxa faded to the second division. Now Necaxa has the Liga Ascenso’s nicest digs.  Unless Chivas joins them this summer.

omnilife2Estadio Omnilife – Guadalajara

Sometimes private financing can only take you so far.  Jorge Vergara has been rumored to lose his shirt in the financing of this stadium, which led to the original playing surface being the fake stuff. But that is only one of the problems.  The location is awful.  The outrageous Sunday traffic on gameday has caused many Chivas fans to stay away.  And the 5pm local start time puts half the stands in direct sunlight.  The Stadium itself is wonderful, but there is a lot more to stadiums than just the structure.  If you build it, they will not come if it is a huge pain in the ass to do so.

bancomerEstadio Bancomer – Monterrey

On the surface, Rayados’ new home look spectacular.  Gorgeous, shiny, modern, accessible, it seems to have it all.  Except for one teency little problem:  ventilation.  The initial reports from the fans is that the stadium is great, but the air does not move too freely. And anyone who has been to Monterrey in August can attest to the fact that it is oppressively hot.  Laredo Hot.  Being the creative muchachos, they are, the Rayados fans have dubbed the new stadium la tamalera.

 

New stadiums are coming to Liga MX, slowly but surely.  But even a shiny new bauble doesn’t necessarily guarantee success, as we have seen.

2015 in Review Episode 2: Attack of the Chon Chon

Any fan of Mexican football can attest to the fact that a roller coaster ride is an understated metaphor for the spectrum of emotions that one experiences in the course of following the team.  That full spectrum, the whole Roy G. Biv, was on display yet again in 2015.

We left off this particular year in review in Eindhoven, where the PSV supporters let it be known that Andres Guardado was an integral part of their championship season.  A well planned and executed display.  It was nice to see.  If only other parts of Mexico’s 2015 were pulled off as smoothly as this.

Worst Planning

Mexico’s Copa America campaign

mexico copa america For the second straight Copa America, Mexico was left wondering what could have been after another group stage exit.  It should have never come to that.

In 2011, Mexico was forced to send less than their best thanks to a Chuck Blazer mandated “it’s the U23 or don’t play” edict that ensured that Mexico’s best players would participate in the 2011 Gold Cup, and Chuck would maximize his 10% commissions on the $10 beers sold at Jerryworld.

The U23 team selected had a terrific run-up to the tournament, only for it to blow up in their faces after Chepo de la Torre suspended the core of the side after a prostitution scandal.  The side that played in Argentina was a hastily put together mishmash of Liga MXers an U20 stalwarts.  It didn’t work, but at least they had an excuse.

In 2015, there were no such limits to the roster, but Miguel Herrera decided to send a B squad anyway.  Once again, a group that had never played together were lassoed into service while the A team was getting ready for the Gold Cup.  Mexico did not embarrass themselves, but the results and the personnel could have been better.  It also did not help that Miguel Herrera, fresh off his politically motivated tweets, lost what little support he had left with some more outrageous statements.  Add to that Javier Hernandez’ post tournament comments that he was ready, willing, and able to play both tournaments, but was never asked to do so.

Mexico will continue to play in the South American tournament as an invited guest because the TV money generated by their participation is too succulent for CONMEBOL to pass up.  But Mexico has to decide how best to play the tournament.  A B side is an insult to CONMEBOL, even if the A side’s European clubs would not allow their players to double dip.  The most logical thing to do, then, is to send a U23 with a handful of pros.  Give the young guns a showcase for their considerable skills.

 

Most Underrated Coach

Raul “Potro” Gutierrez

potroHe led one U17 to a World Cup title and another to the final.  The natural progression was for Raul “Potro” Gutierrez to take charge of the U20 teams.  He did not, and they were not able to match the results they achieved one level below.  Instead he jumped a level, and led Mexico to their 2nd straight win in CONCACAF’s Olympic qualifying tournament. He is poised to take a team that may be more talented than the one that won Gold in London 4 years ago to Rio.

Yet anyone who has had the need to hire a coach over the past few months doesn’t have Potro’s digits.  He has not gotten a sniff at any of the numerous openings that pop up like mushrooms around Liga MX.  He was not considered when Mexico needed an interim (or permanent) National team.  His current gig takes into next summer, but there is no reason why he can’t moonlight, at say, Morelia in the time being.

Whoever does take that chance won’t be disappointed.

Coach with most Pressure

Juan Carlos Osorio / Iganacio Ambriz

No surprises here.  The former has stepped into a cauldron that is perpetually boiling.  The latter had his motives questioned by his boss during his last game of import, a loss to  Chinese club and Asian champion, Guangzou.  Both have no choice but to respond with results in 2015.

jc osorio

Juan Carlos Osorio got off on the wrong foot with the Mexican media just by being announced as Mexico’s national team coach.  And then when he had the nerve to talk about tactics, the media tried to paint him as an intellectually pompous brainiac.  There is always a fatal flaw with Mexico’s coaches according to the media.  Hugo Sanchez was too ambitious, while Javier Aguirre was not ambitious enough.  Miguel Herrera was as educated as they were, so he did not deserve the position he had attained. Osorio is too educated, and, worse, a Colombian.  Nothing he does will be good enough, wins will be discarded and losses will be indictments that will only add to the chorus of talking heads who want to fire the guy yesterday.

And he was one of the few who wanted the gig.

Nacho Ambriz has the players to contend for another title at Club America, and will have front office support as long as he keeps winning, or avoids blundering his way to a loss.  He did so in the Liga MX Semis, when down to 9 men, did not sit back and absorb what little pressure Pumas was providing.  And over in Japan, he inexplicably ceded momentum to the Chinese side, and paid the ultimate price.

America will have defeats, but will the other team beat them, or will they hand them the win on a silver platter.  If Ambriz can avoid the latter, he should stick around.

Why don’t you stick around, we have a few more chapters to go.

Technical skill in USA vs Mexico

One of the main thoughts I have had in mind and truly believe in, is that the reason Mexican players have greater touch and on the ball technical ability than their US rivals is because they have the ball at their feet from an earlier age among other reasons. Lets analyze some of these reasons.

USA Soccer lifestyle:

  • First, in the US kids play soccer in the back yard if there is time, but mostly during soccer practice and the actual soccer game.
  • Second, kids will always play sports in the house and anywhere they can, but it is more common in the US that they have a pointy shaped football and throw it around. There are other more popular sports, in the US that take away from time playing with a ball at their feet.
  • Third, is it easier to play with the soccer ball in your house in Mexico or in the US? This theory I am not sure on. Do US parents require more order and are strict on their kids breaking something while trying some Ronaldinho moves? I am not sure.

Mexico Soccer lifestyle:

  • Kids in Mexico will play soccer anywhere and everywhere. They don’t need a fancy metal goal with nice white nets. They don’t need nice green grass. They play in the streets, in parks and even in dirt fields.
  • Mexican kids don’t have other sports that are more popular than soccer. This is arguable in some parts of the country where baseball is pretty popular. Soccer is the sport to watch on TV and with balls sold at every market, there is no reason a kid wouldn’t have one growing up.

 

To demonstrate this reasoning. In the last few years while living in the US, never once have I seen kids playing soccer in the street. I have a park behind my house and have only seen kids play soccer there maybe once. I have a full soccer field down the road and I have never seen any kids play soccer there on their own.

Another aspect of this is the Mexican-American population, who admittedly are the ones that are most interested in soccer in the first place. Do they play in the streets, even though they live in the US? I would say no. The US culture seems to sway this, be it playing Xbox or needing a better field, but probably the biggest reason is not enough Mexican-Americans around to start a game. I think in neighborhoods of higher concentration of Mexicans/Mexican-Americans, you would find more kids playing soccer and even in the streets of the US.

Now I have spent the last 3 days in Mexico and going out and about I see the following, which I record for hard proof of the Soccer culture in Mexico. You might even be impressed with some of the moves and skill that these kids do and surely emulate from their favorite players.

Enjoy:

 

Group Seeds and Game Dates Announced for Historic 2016 Copa America Centenario

Argentina, Brazil, Mexico and the United States Head the Four Groups in the Tournament;  Seeded Nations to Visit Nine of the Ten Host Markets in Group Play

Miami (Thursday, December 17, 2015) – The Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF), the South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL) and the Copa America Centenario Local Organizing Committee (LOC) announced today the group seeds and game dates for the historic 2016 Copa America Centenario. The once-in-a-lifetime soccer summer event, which honors 100 years of the Copa America tournament, will feature some of the world’s best teams and players competing from June 3-26, 2016, in the United States.

As the host nation, the United States earns the Group A seed, while Argentina, as the highest FIFA-ranked nation in the Americas (per December FIFA rankings), will be seeded top of Group D.

In celebration of the rich soccer tradition in the hemisphere and as the most decorated nations in the last 100 years in international competitions from their respective confederations, the national teams of Brazil and Mexico have also been awarded group seeds, and will head Groups B and C, respectively.

The remaining 12 participating nations will be sorted into the four groups in early 2016 based on a public draw. Seeding for the draw will be based on the December 2015 FIFA World Rankings. Details of groups and procedures for the draw will be announced leading up to that event.

In announcing the seeded teams, organizers also revealed the dates of matches, including the cities each seeded nation will visit, as well as the dates they will play during the group phase of the tournament.

Tigres makes quick work of Pumas

It did not take long for Tigres to take the initiative in the Liga MX Apertura final vs Pumas.  It was all of 10 minutes before the Monterrey side grabbed hold of the series and looks to not let go.

For some, the penalty called against Pumas’ Javier Cortés was karmic justice.  It was Cortés’ tackle that led to the fracture of America’s Javier Güémez last week in the their semifinal.  Cortés was not carded or even called for a foul.  Andre Pierre Gignac, the French international who has been nothing short of sensational since his arrival to the Sultana del Norte this past summer, delivered a thundering, unstoppable blast.  It was 1-0, but it may well have been 10-0.  The rout was on.  The Frenchman, along with his strike partner, former Brazilian international Rafael Sobis, had their way with a Pumas backline that has picked the worst time in the season to become ball watchers.  Their inability to control the scoring tandem was only compounded by the fact that Tigres’ wingers, Javier Aquino and Jurgen Damm, feasted on their slower defenders.  And then there was the complete control in the midfield by Guido Pizarro.  The Argentine, like most holding midfielders, will never get the recognition he deserves, but the way he dominated the middle of the pitch was as close to an MVP performance as one can see at a championship game.  There is a reason why the strikers and wingers were so effective. The reason last night was Pizarro.

One would have never known that Damm was playing with an injury that limited his effectiveness.  Pumas had no answer for the right winger’s deep runs, where Damm set up his wingman Aquino with the second.

2 goals for Pumas to overcome was always going to be difficult, but a third would be borderline insurmountable.  And that is exactly what happened early in the second half as Sobis, tipped in a Gignac shot that Pikolin Palacios could only parry away. It is interesting that for the second week in a row, a team will take a 3-goal lead to the second leg to Mexico’s Olympic Stadium on Sunday.  The difference here is Pumas is just not equipped to take the offensive initiative like Club America was.  They are an absorb and counter side that used the strategy to great success during the season.

Now they will have to press a team whose coach, Tuca Ferretti, despite having more than 70% possession in the first leg, can’t shake his reputation as being the cat mouse coach.  It is true that Tuca has softened a little; his teams play a little more offensively than before.  But when they need, they counter, and like they showed last week in Toluca, it is still as lethal as ever

There are still 90 minutes left to play, and we all know that anything can happen.  But Tigres is the team that has the most talent, and playing the best soccer right now.  And Tuca is still Tuca.  They can be be more offensive, but order and shape is still what he cares about most.

What it all means is that come Sunday night, for the 2nd time in two months, Tuca will emerge sans moustache and Tigres will have their 4th trophy in hand.

Ol’ Ugly is Better than Ol’ Nothing

Full disclosure:  The title is not one of mine.  I wish.  No that belongs to Darrel Royal, Texas coaching legend, and a man with a long list of quotables.  Pumas coach Memo Vasquez would also be happy with the title. But he did not take to heart with one of Darrel’s most famous axioms:

you dance with who brung you

You can understand his motives to playing with 3 holding midfielders vs America in their second leg of the Liga MX semis.  3 away goal advantage, the stiffest defense in Liga MX.  They had the chops to bend and not break for 90 minutes.  So why did they break after 20 minutes and 2 goals from Darwin “the Goal Scientist” Quintero?

There was plenty of disconnect.  And Complacency?  Oh yeah?  Add to that a Club America team that was hellbent on scoring the 4 goals they needed to advance, and it was very nearly a historic, calamitous, unforgivable collapse.

Luckily for Pumas, Memo Vasquez moved quickly to start dancing with who brung him to this point, and the team settled down enough to squeak through to the final.  It wasn’t the prettiest way to go through.  Their performance was awful, actually. The worst they played all season.  But in the end, the result is what mattered.

But not in Mexico.

In a league where style and spectacle is almost as (and in some cases more) important as the result, Pumas committed a mortal sin:  they played to defend a result, not to look for one.  The post game presser was a somber affair where the underlying tone was one of defeat, not making their 13th final since being promoted in the early 60’s.  As coach Royal said

I learned this about coaching: You don’t have to explain victory and you can’t explain defeat.

The reporters were baffled as to why Pumas betrayed the 3G philosophy that all teams, championship or otherwise, are apparently obligated to adhere to in Mexico:  ganar, gustar, y golear.

Did Pumas play badly?  Of course they did.  But their 3-goal lead gave them the luxury of rolling out a real stinker and still eliminating their cross-town rivals.  In other words they had their worst performance of the season, and in the end the result was what mattered.

The Loser’s Lifeline

The ref hadn’t even taken the whistle out of his mouth before the whining and complaining started.  It was the usual sentiment:  “Robo!”  “Regalo!”  “Jugaron con 12.” Veracruz fans were furious and and steadfast in their belief that the referee had robbed them of their chance to advance past Pumas in the Liga MX playoffs.

Never mind the fact that Veracruz failed to capitalize on numerous chances in the home leg, or that their cries for offside on Pumas’ early goal in the way leg were unfounded, as were their desperate pleas for a decision on a penalty for a handball that would never be called even by the worst ref on the planet. Even the Shark’s front office this week demanded an investigation to root out the obvious favoritism demonstrated by Roberto Garcia Orozco.  Please.

It is an all too common occurrence.  Fans of a losing side,  instead of coming to terms with their team’s shortcomings, point fingers at the man in black.  The perennial scapegoat.

That is not to say that ref’s don’t make mistakes that affect the outcome of a game.  Of course they do.  But it is a huge part of the game. And to the Red Sharks’ credit, they certainly didn’t seem to let it affect their play.  They did their level best to tilt the game in their favor.

But for a large swath of fans, that is meaningless.  The ref’s dubious decisions are the ONLY reason their side lost.  As if whatever happened before or after that blind idiot blew his whistle had no influence on the game.  They cling to it — the loser’s lifeline.

Even after America was embarrassed at home by the same Pumas, 3-0, some fans latched on to the loser’s lifeline to blame the ref.  The players lost their mind, the coach didn’t make the necessary adjustments after 2 red cards, but it was the ref’s fault.  Ain’t it always?

How is that working out for you, losers?

Mexico Defeats El Salvador in Juan Carlos Osorio Debut

Mexico defeats El Salvador

Mexico City, Mexico. — Mexico defeats El Salvador at home, 3-0, in debut match as they hope to reach CONCACAF’s final World Cup qualifying stage. Mexico enjoyed a comfortable score but failed to impress the Estadio Azteca crowd who jeered the team.

Captain Andres Guardado was the first to score for Mexico converting a well-taken set piece outside the 18. Hector Herrera followed up with the 2nd goal just before the half as he attempted to connect with Javier Hernandez, who mistimed his kick, but distracted the El Salvador keeper enough for the ball to bounce into the back of the net. Carlos Vela put the game out of reach with a sublime chip goal.

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The El Salvador challenge: Overconfidence, underestimation, arrogance?

Photo by Globedia.comToday is the day Mexico plays a weakened El Salvador team in the grand Estadio Azteca. El Salvador has historically been one of the weaker teams in CONCACAF. After some player disputes, many of the experienced players refused to play so the El Salvador team will take on even younger and less experienced players. Making this team an even weaker opponent for Mexico, possibly.

What does this mean for Mexico?

 

  • The Problem of Mexico playing to the level of their opponent.

Maybe Mexico doesn’t see the urgency when playing agains lower level teams or they expect a goal to eventually come, relatively easily. When Mexico plays Brazil, Spain or other bigger teams, they usually play with “garra”, “ganas” and give a good performance.

 

  • Will Mexico underestimate El Salvador.

Mexico knows the problems the El Salvador federation is having. Many are asking not if Mexico will win, but how many goals they will score. Even if Chicharito will reach Borgetti’s record.

 

  • Is there a Mexican arrogance in the air.

We have seen multiple lineups released by different sources. New players on defense, variety of combinations on offense. Chicharito on the bench possibly, along with Layun. Usually during friendlies you will see experimentation by NT coaches, trying out new lineups, formations, etc. This is the beginning of World Cup Qualifying. A legitimate tournament. Sure it’s a weakened El Salvador, but is it arrogant to put one lineup today and one vs Honduras, even if it’s just 4 player changes? Or is it not that important that a single linup of players gel and get fully used to playing under a new DT and a new strategy? Is this experimentation time or time to buckle up for a hard fought tournament to get to Russia?

 

Time will tell. Stay tuned tonight!

Pumas Secures Top Seed, Libertadores Berth

It is not that they came out of nowhere, or that they weren’t on anyone’s radar. Frankly, anyone who tries to make pre-season predictions on the outcome of Liga MX should probably have their head examined. The only sure thing in Luga MX is that there are no sure things.

But, there they are, the team no one saw coming, taking the top spot in Liga MX with a game in hand. Pumas will be the top seed in the Liga MX playoffs. A curse more than a blessing really, as Alberto “Chiquis” Campa noted earlier.  The bigger prize, though, is a ticket to Copa Libertadores. A tournament where Pumas has not distinguished themselves at all. And now they get another shot.

How did Pumas, a club that had spent 4 years in the wilderness, manage to turn it around? It is simple really. Continuity. Pumas only dabbles in the transfer market, and the players they do cherry pick tend to stick around. This is not a team that reshuffles its roster every six months. The one time the did try it recently, under Alberto Garcia Aspe (another prodigal son), it failed miserably and is the main reason Pumas nearly slipped into the abyss.  It also didn’t hurt that they brought back two lifetime Pumas to run the squad: Memo Vazquez, former Pumas player and last title-winning coach, was brought back after his inexplicable exit. Antonio Sancho is in the front office.

This year, they only collected 3 new players before the season. Two of them have had a major impact. Fidel Martinez, el Neymar Ecuatoriano has solidified an attack that has scored the most goals since C2011, which conincidentally, was the last time Pumas won a title. The other is Alekandro Castro. The former Cruz Azul holding midfielder has had an exceptional campaign which even warranted a call-up for the upcoming qualifiers.

The Mexico City side started slow, which was a problem: a few more losses and they would have slipped into the relegation fight. Instead, a 6-game winning streak catapulted them away from the drop zone and to the top of the table. They haven’t looked back. No team has scored more and only one team has given up fewer — Tigres (coached by another Pumas disciple, Tuca Ferretti).

But there is that whole top seed curse thing. It is very real. In the last 10 years, more top seeds have fallen in the first round than have won the title by a 2.5:1 ratio. Only 4 have won the title outright. If Pumas crash out early, so be it. But they have only partiacpted in the Copa Libertadores twice, and only got as far as the round of 16 in 2003. That should be the focus in 2016. Do they have a roster that can compete in the two tournaments? Tough to say. They play well together and have decent depth, but they need some youth players to step up. Which should never be a problem at Pumas.

So for the first time in 24 years, Pumas will enter the post-season as the top seed. What happened the last time they were the #1 seed?  Funny you should ask…

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