I was going to write something like this for SI.com but chose instead to write that piece on Borgetti/Mendoza/Chivas/Chivas USA.
Anyway, the Mexican Clausura 09 season is upon us. It seems like just last month Toluca was beating Cruz Azul in the finals of the Apertura. Now, not much time has passed but there have been lots of changes in the league since los Diablos Rojos won their ninth league title.
Here's a look at some of the moves I liked and didn't like followed by some other tidbits and my prediction for champion.
Moves I Like
Aaron Galindo to Chivas: Chivas needed a central defender for several reasons; Jonny Magallon is hurt and won't be able to play for the first quarter of the season at least. Galindo can step right in and be a force in the backline. After time in Spain, Switzerland and, most recently Germany, Galindo should return to Mexico a much more polished defender.
Pavel Pardo to America: America needed something. The club's poor outing a season ago was embarrassing for a club of America's stature, and the team has not been competitive in league for more than one year. What better way to help restore some of the luster than to bring back a player that represents some of what has been lost? Pardo led America to championships in the Verano 02 and Clausura 05 titles and knows what it takes to lead America back to glory. Can they get there? They have a much better shot with Pardo than without.
Bruno Marioni to Atlas: Atlas is the perennial fraud, a team that looks good in the preseason but is nowhere to be found come playoff time. However, with Marioni around to fill the nets the team may just have a chance for the Liguilla this year. Marioni was decent with Pachuca but personal reasons led to Marioni's return, where he has thrived. Look for Marioni to challenge for the league lead in goals and if he can get some consistent support Atlas may indeed be a contender this season.
Moves I Don't Like
Alfredo Moreno to Necaxa: Much is being expected of Moreno. A former standout with San Luis, Moreno struggled in his only season with America and now is out to help Necaxa stay clear of the relegation zone. Moreno, though, is not likely to find his comfort zone with another new club, his third team in the last nine months. If he can get in a groove, Moreno can be productive but with a team that pretty much made wholesale changes it may take a while. This is Moreno's second stint with Necaxa; during his first he was decent but was not a goal-scoring threat as he became in San Luis.
Luis Angel Landin to Cruz Azul: La Maquina found some magic in Miguel Sabah and helped squeeze water from rocks with him. It will require more magic to help make Landin productive. Landin had been tagged a can't-miss prospect but instead makes us wonder why anyone thought he would be a star. Landin's image has been inflated and Cruz Azul acquired themselves a player that will become dead weight soon enough.
Nobody to Pumas: The offseason came and went and Pumas stood pat. It may seem as if the team was good enough to do so as Pumas finished fourth overall and enjoyed a fairly decent campaign. But Pumas lost five of their 17 games a season ago, hardly a statistic worth bragging about. Now, Pumas did have the league's stingiest defense and if coach "Tuca" Ferreti is banking on his defense carrying them to a title, fine. But Cruz Azul scored three goals on them in the playoffs in Pumas' home no doubt. That may have served as a bit of a wakeup call that they indeed do not have a championship-caliber defense.
Chivas vs. America
Neither team made the playoffs so consequently both sides made numerous changes. Who improved their team more? I think America did, but I will say that Chivas enters the season the better team. America brought in Pardo, Edgar Castillo and Jean Beausejour and I think collectively all of America's imports will make more of an impact than Chivas' new players. However, Chivas is in the mix with Pumas and Cruz Azul to win the group title while America needs to avoid a sluggish start if they are to contend.
First Coach Fired?
Puebla's Jose Luis Sanchez. It will be September all over again soon enough. Sanchez was sacked from this very post in September and gave way to Mario Carrillo. After the season, the club parted ways with Carrillo and tried to bring in Ruben Omar Romano. Instead, Sanchez is the man again. And he'll be fired as a last resort when Puebla falls into the abyss and the Primera A seems inevitable.
Tigres: Since reaching the semifinals in the Apertura 2005 season, Tigres have two first-round exits to show for six otherwise forgettable season. Signs might point to this club rising to contention again - a playoff appearance a season ago, an experienced coach in Manuel Lapuente - but don't believe it. Tigres won't make the playoffs this season and will be looking for a coach this summer.
Pachuca: The glory days are long gone, but so are the days when Pachuca was a difficult team to beat. Los Tuzos can still play with anyone on any day but those days are few and far between. Copa Libertadores will deal a death blow to a club that will struggle yet again in league. Coach Enrique Meza's days are numbered as well.
San Luis: Raul Arias built up San Luis into a contender and one of the best teams in the league, although the club did not have a trophy to show for their efforts. Raul Arias is no longer around. Now, the team still has talent, including American defender Michael Orozco, but Arias meant a lot to San Luis' efforts. With a new man in charge, the club will struggle to gain their footing.
Chivas: Believe it. Jorge Vergara may have loose lips and may say some outrageous things but this time he has a team that can back him up. Their youth is coming together while the veterans can still play and bring plenty to the table. Copa Libertadores duty might hamper the team but Chivas did enough in the offseason to ensure that they are well-stocked for the two tournaments.
Cruz Azul: It was no fluke that this team reached two consecutive finals and only misfortune kept La Maquina from breaking their decade-long title drought. To expect them to reach a third title might seem unrealistic but few gave them a shot of reaching one final, let alone two. Landin will not produce for the club but fortunately there is enough talent around so that the club will not depend on him much.
And the title will go to... Toluca. Pressure? What pressure? Toluca captured their ninth league title - good for third all-time - with a pulsating final win over Cruz Azul that saw the club need penalties to seal the deal. Toluca now seem poised for a letdown as only Pumas has won consecutive short-season titles. You can add Toluca to that short list come the end of the season. Toluca added Sergio Santana, who had seven- and nine-goal seasons before slumping a year ago and losing his confidence. Santana should have plenty of room to manuever as defenses key in on Hector Raul Mancilla, who broke through for 13 goals a year ago. Jose Manuel De La Torre's system produced the ultimate result in his first season and with that much success to build on, Toluca's future is bright.