The latest Gentlemen’s Agreement has arrived. In this edition, CantinaMX Podcast host John Jagou, and FutMexNation Columnist Joel Aceves discuss the early success from unexpected sources. And the Gentlemen explain the Azteca myth and why it might be time to play elsewhere. As always, the Gentlemen recommend a fine sipping Tequila as an adequate enhancement to this column.
John Jagou: Joel, The LigaMX Clasura17 season is month old, and who would have guessed to see Pumas and Santos near the top of the table, joining last season’s table toppers, Xolos?
Joel Aceves: Yon, I am glad to see that the top three teams are being coached by Mexican’s and they are doing it without having had to break the piggy bank to build their squads. Of the three we can say Xolo’s is the least surprising. They finished last season in first place. At the other end we have the Apertura 2016 finalists Tigres and America having a difficult time as we had predicted.
JJ: Xolos has an excellent home-field advantage, which I would love to see the Mexican National team exploit, were it not for that pesky field turf. But the crowd, the lengthy trip to Tijuana all play a role, and it is good to see Piojo Herrera prove to the world that he is a solid coach after all. They should be considered heavy favorites to make a deep run into the post-season.
Paco Palencia has been a pleasant surprise. The best part of the Pumas story is that he is having success with the formula that made Pumas great in the first place: finding the right blend of youth & experience. The Chilean exports have made an immediate impact, as has his reliance on Pumas’ youth products. Pumas has a puncher’s chance in the Concachampions knockouts as well as the local league – which no one, not even the most ardent Pumas supporter, would have predicted back when Paco took the helm.
And the team I know you are keeping an extra eye on, Santos, looks to be settling in to their accustomed role of league contenders. There is something to be said about a team that has only been in the league for 20+ years, yet manages to consistently battle for trophies. Yes, they have seasons where they struggle, like anyone else, but they always re-emerge as a top team. Chepo should be commended for the work he is doing in the Comarca. Perhaps this will finally wash off the stench from his ignominious end at the helm of the national team.
Joely: Santos strength has been their overall defending which has kept them undefeated in league play. Their defense has also scored the majority of the goals. If Chepo can get his strikers Furch and Rodriguez to click, then I can see Santos remaining at the top of the table.
Another team having problems scoring goals are my beloved Chivas. This seems to be the recurring them under Almeyda who no longer has excuses as the club has brought him all the attacking players he could hope for. Chivas at this point is a Mexican National molero team. One of the criticism I have heard is Almeyda’s insistence in setting up players in positions they are not comfortable, prioritizing the team’s functionality. So, we have Chivas creating many chances but not being very effective in-front of goal. On this issue I subscribe to John Wooden’s method: put players were they are most likely to succeed.
JJ: When you fail to prepare, you prepare to fail. Be quick, but don’t hurry. Perhaps Almeyda should take a look at the Pyramid of Success.
I joked a few weeks ago that Chivas is dominating possession, creating chances, not scoring, then giving up goals on the counter. Which, of course, made them perfect for the national team.
We talked earlier in the season that Chivas’ season hinges on whether or not their talented players could handle mounting pressure if they start to struggle. The fact that they bounced back from a loss at home with a win on the road was a good sign, so the mouths haven’t dried up just yet.
It is almost poetic that the team whose fan-base pulls out a laundry list of excuses when their team loses is now fronted by the coach who has his own long list of “not my fault” at the ready for any situation. Club America squeaked by lowly Veracruz at home, and the “3G” critics were collecting torches and pitchforks. How long before Ricardo Lavolpe is fired or quits?
Joely: There are already rumors that America have approached River Plate manager Marcelo Gallardo. The Argentine coach has already an impressive record in his young career: he was at the helm when River beat Tigres for the Copa Libertadores. That said, I think Lavolpe will get to coach the remainder of the Clausura 2017 season unless they have truly disastrous results. I can even see the same happening with Almeyda if the results aren’t there. Guadalajara is currently the 5th most expensive club in Liga MX: Tigres is in first followed by Monterrey, America and Pachuca. Expectations for Chivas should really be through the roof but the club has done a good job of playing them down by having owner Jorger Vergara and CEO Jose Luis Higuera boycott the press.
JJ: We expected both Tigres and America to struggle, and they are. At some point the engine will start for both, but Tigres won’t be weighed down by their coach like America will with Lavolpe. He generates his own drama, win or lose. There will be a breaking point.
Tuca can be quite dramatic at times himself, but he is not a “look at me, look at me” attention craver like Lavolpe. The act will wear thin.
Speaking of Tigres and their high payroll, they went South to the jungle and got swatted down by Jaguares, whose payroll may or may not be met, depending on the week. The chiapanecos have now collected 6 gargantuan points in consecutive weeks, while both Veracruz and Morelia lost. Jaguares mined points from unexpected sources with wins at Toluca and vs the defending champs. Remember these 6 points in week 17.
Joely: I still have faith in el Profe Reinoso to steer the Tiburones into clear waters. His defeat to America was an away match and by the minimum difference, he has yet to lose by more than a goal. As it stands the relegation battle at the moment is between Morelia and Veracruz. Looking at the match calendar I reckon the Red Sharks have the more difficult path of the two. Their next game will be at home against Chiapas and a must win game for that very reason.
JJ: Chiapas is only 4 points clear of Morelia (with a game in hand), so they are still in the foggy wilderness with the other two teams. I find it worrisome and troubling that a Chivas fan like yourself would put so much faith in Mr. Club America. And frankly, it would not surprise me in the least to this thing turn into a 4 team race with Puebla, as the camoteros look to have no interest in winning any games.
There will be a call-up this week, Joel. Any predictions on who makes JCO’s list for the Iceland friendly in Las Vegas next week?
Joely: Well Yon, Given that the game will be on a non FIFA Match day we can expect a Liga MX heavy call up. I expect anywhere from 4-5 Chiva players: Jair, Pizarro, Orbelin Pineda, Pulido and perhaps La Chofis. From Pumas I can see Van Rankin getting a call-up then we have the usual GK line up of Talavera, Jesus Corona and even Moi Munoz who has been having a good season at Chiapas. Nestor Araujo from Santos could also get a call up as well as Oribe Peralta from Ame. Chucky Lozano from Pachuca could very well be the top draw and his former teammate Damm should also make the list. I almost forgot Galaxian Gio Dos Santos. Are you expecting any surprises in the line up?
JJ: I fully expect a roster heavy with barbacoa. I would like to think that there would be a few Pumas as well, but it should be a Chivas base with other teams’ sprinkled in.
Orbelín Pineda, in my opinion is the best Mexican player in any league and should be making this and all call-up lists in the foreseeable future.
My surprise call will be Quik Mendoza, who has been instrumental in Chiapas’ surprising start to the season.
Overall, there are plenty of players in the local league that can fight for a place on the full senior side. This should be a decent list of players.
And since FMF has decided to play the first 3 hex games at the Azteca, JCO needs his locals, particularly those who play at altitude, to maintain a level of consistency.
Joely: The first three home games will be at Azteca if and only if FMF does not get a suspension for the highly controversial goal kick chant. Instead of playing in an empty stadium I reckon FMF would rather play in another venue.
JJ: FMF should have already chosen to play in a different venue.
The Azteca has become a liability for FMF for a variety of reasons:
1) The elevation is 7,300 feet. The base of Mexico’s national team plays at sea level. That is a problem.
2) It hardly ever sells out. What is the point of playing in a 90,000 seat stadium that is half full at best? Don’t think the opposing teams hardly notice.
3) The crowd is not there to support Mexico. They are there to ridicule and criticize, and of course, scream Puto at the top of their lungs. They turn on the team in an instant.
It also does not make sense to play the games at the Azteca at night. Although, I have noticed that the June qualifier vs the US will be on a Sunday, but as you said, it could be in front of an empty stadium.
Joely: Yon, to clarify if Mex gets a ban or big fine then they will play outside of Azteca to avoid playing in an empty stadium.
JJ: The Fortress Azteca myth was created in 1993, when Mexico had not played an official match in 8 years, or a home qualifier in 16. The Azteca was filled with fans who had a lot of pent up energy. For those who have not seen highlights, look up any qualifier from 1993. The games were played at noon on Sunday, the crowd was overloaded with excitement. The stadium shook while flags waved. It was impressive, and intimidating as hell. No hex games at the Azteca have come close to what we saw in ’93.
Joely: You are right about the Azteca myth. It was a mighty fortress and el Tri almost always won but the media extended that dominance past the home field advantage to encompass the whole of CONCACAF and now expected the team to always win. The newer fans ate this up especially because they grew up watching Mexico playing Copa America and beating Brazil at the Confederations Cup. All of a sudden the elimination from 74 and 82 had been written off.
JJ: Efectivamente, mi Joel. Even the ’93 campaign, as dominant as it was, started with a loss at the Cuzcatlán. And it needed the savvy presence of a 36 year old striker to shepherd the team through to the tournament. You may have heard of him. His name was Hugo Sanchez.
His goal and assist were the difference in a must win game in Canada.
The bottom line is that history has proven there are no guarantees in CONCACAF qualifying. You have to maximize your advantage.
For all of his faults, the one guy who understands this is Osorio. He will eschew training in the capital and stage it a further down the mountains in Cuernavaca, the capital city of Chilangolandia weekend getaways.
Joely: Yon, I feel México’s World Cup qualification is in the bag simply because the team is at a high point. The core group is made up of players in their prime with 2-3 World Cups under their belt and a good group of emerging talent that has come at the right time. No other CONCACAF side’s depth can even compare to México’s. On the contrary Mexico is facing teams that are going through a generational transition.
JJ: I thought the same thing in 2013, and Mexico had to go through Middle Earth to punch their ticket. And it’s those same players that you have noted.
Pues ya nos vamos, Joel. See you on the radio.
Joely: Hasta luego, Yon.
Catch John and Joel every Wednesday on the CantinaMX Podcast live on youtube at 9pm CT, or on itunes.
Follow Joel on twitter @joelyaceves
Follow John on twitter @jjagou