Posted: Friday January 19, 2007 12:36PM; Updated: Friday January 19, 2007 1:04PM
Mexican hero Jared Borgetti has returned to the league, but will he be able to help Cruz Azul end its long title drought?
MOST-IMPROVED: Tigres. Still, García forms a part of the most-improved squad in the Clausura '07 season. Aside from Cáceres, the defense improved from the addition of former Tigres player Javier Saavedra, ex-Vélez Sarsfield defender Fabián Cubero as well as goalkeeper Cirilo Saucedo. Meanwhile, Walter Gaitán and Jaime Lozano are still gainfully employed by Tigres. The nightmarish Apertura '06 campaign is finally over and Tigres has the look of a contender.
LEAST IMPROVED: América. The names and faces changed but the new arrivals are essentially the same. Las Águilas rid themselves of two Argentines and replaced them with another Argentine and one Ecuadorian. Matias Vuoso flopped with América and returned to Santos, while Claudio López was essentially put out to pasture. Enter Daniel Bilos, a center-forward who joins América by way of French side St. Etienne. Also, former Tigres and Ecuador World Cup veteran Luis Saritama joins the fold. But the players who will make the difference are already here. The club performed well in the Apertura '06 season until the semifinal embarrassment at the hands of Chivas, so why disrupt relative success?
COACHES ON THE HOT SEAT: Isaac Mizrahi, Cruz Azul; Mario Carrillo, Tigres. Mizrahi should have already been fired for failing to guide Cruz Azul deeper than the quarterfinals in the playoffs. After La Maquina finished first in the overall table, it should have at least reached the semifinal, but instead lost to Chivas in the quarterfinals. Carrillo, meanwhile, will struggle to keep his job should the high-priced acquisitions fail to generate wins and, more importantly, points to keep Tigres in the first division.
FLOPS: Santos, Necaxa. Like Tigres, Santos improved dramatically. However, unlike Tigres, this club has little to build around. Whereas Tigres has Gaitán and Lozano, Santos' best player is now with Tecos. The new nucleus will take time to gel -- too much time. Santos will be out of playoff contention and likely on its way out of the first division by the time that happens.
Many onlookers were impressed and enamored by the way Necaxa ripped apart its InterLiga competition. By winning the annual tournament, Necaxa gained direct entry into the Copa Libertadores. However, two tournaments will prove too much to handle. At some point in the near future, Necaxa officials will try and decide which is more important -- league or cup -- before throwing the towel in on the lesser of the two competitions.
TITLE CONTENDERS: Chivas, Toluca, América, Pachuca. The Mexican League is quickly becoming a four-team league. This quartet has taken turns winning the Mexican League title and succeeding both domestically and internationally. There is no reason to fear any falloff from any of these power brokers. Chivas will overcome losing its goalkeeper while América will bounce back from losing to Chivas. Toluca and Pachuca will continue building up their respective strong sides. The champion will come from this quartet.
PREDICTION: Pachuca will capture its second title in three seasons and cement its status as a modern-day dynasty. Enrique Meza is building something special in Hidalgo and the young, talented Tuzos will surprise no one by claiming its fifth short-season championship.
Sánchez picks Pumas
On June 13, 2004, Hugo Sánchez tasted glory as a coach for the first time. On that day in Mexico City's Estadio Olimpico Universitario, a Sánchez-led Pumas squad beat Chivas in penalty kicks in the Mexican League final. Three years later, numerous players from that game continued to make an impression on Sánchez.
Now in charge of the Mexican national team, Sánchez released his first national team roster on Thursday. Among the 26 players he called in were 13 players who played in that game.
That Sánchez called in numerous Guadalajara players is not surprising -- Chivas typically sends a great amount of players to El Tricolor. But the amount of former Pumas players was nevertheless a bit surprising, until you consider Sánchez's predecessors.
Ricardo Lavolpe counted on former players such as Daniel Osorno and Zinha while coaching Mexico. Before him, Javier Aguirre included his own former players such as Manuel Vidrio, Gabriel Caballero, Francisco Gabriel de Anda and Alberto Rodríguez. Enrique Meza nearly cost Mexico a World Cup by relying on players such as Alberto "Flaco" Macias, Victor Ruiz and José Manuel Abundis.
Now, Sánchez is sticking with what he's most familiar with. Seven players who helped him lift his first trophy as coach were brought into his first-ever national team camp. The seven have since spread out as only goalkeeper Sergio Bernal and defender Israel Castro are still with Pumas. Lozano and Fonseca are now teammates with Tigres, Gerardo Galindo and Joaquin Beltrán are with Necaxa and Israel López has moved on to Cruz Azul.
Aside from choosing what he was most comfortable with, Sánchez went with the old stand-by: Guadalajara. Chivas sent eight players to the national team and, along with former 'keeper Oswaldo Sánchez, there are nine total players who helped Chivas capture its first championship since '97.
No América players were selected because of their Copa Libertadores play-in series against Peru's Sporting Cristal, but Mexican media reported that Cuauhtémoc Blanco is on Sánchez's radar. Also, no European-based players were selected for this domestic-only camp.