The 2015 Liguilla is upon us, but the regular season is officially over. With the final 8 teams looking for the championship, the other 10 are now looking towards next season. One of the headline stories of this Clausura was the season-long battle of relegation. The focus this year was bigger than any other year, possibly because of the involvement of one the “big teams” in the race. Veracruz, Chivas, Puebla, and UAdG played week after week looking for valuable points to leave the relegation zone. Chivas on the other hand, played a lot more than relegation. A relegation of this historic institution would have been devastating to both fans and Liga MX in general.
Chivas surprised many. Most thought they would be fighting relegation till the end of the season, especially after the first couple of weeks where it seemed “Chepo” De La Torre couldn’t find the formula to make this team win. The season didn’t start off in the best way. Although Chivas were earning some points, it seemed that the team wasn’t adjusting to Chepo’s style and many doubted the lineups he was using. After earning 8 points of a possible 18 in the first 6 weeks, many believed Chivas would be fighting relegation till week 17. Luckily for Chivas there was Puebla and UAdG, who played much worse. That gave time to Chivas to continue to adjust and release some of the pressure built up over the initial weeks.
Turning Point: It was week 7, tough road game vs Cruz Azul. Chivas was coming off a disappointing draw at home vs Veracruz. After a big win by Puebla over Morelia, and Veracruz taking care of Toluca. All pressure was on Chivas.
Cruz Azul went up 1-0 and things were not looking promising. Chepo, true to his style, did not make any offensive substitutions until after the 70th minute. After looking like there was no way of earning a positive result, Chivas somehow managed to tie the game after Chepo’s adjustments. Minutes later, Marco Fabian with an impressive free kick put Chivas on top 2-1.
Chivas held on and earned three valuable points that day. Not only did they earn the three points, but it seemed they had achieved the boost of confidence the team needed. After that win, Chivas earned 16 points out of the possible 21 with only one loss, four wins, and one draw. In that positive streak, Chivas also beat Puebla in another key win for the relegation battle. By week 13, Chivas was pulling away from the relegation zone and was sitting comfortably at the top of the table.
Key Player: It would be unfair to point out a key player from this team. Positive roles from Marco Fabian, Jair Pereira, Raul Lopez, Carlos Salcedo, Aldo De Nigris, and even Luis Michel, to name a few, helped this team to merge together and finally play together as a team, something that hadn’t been seen in over 3 years. Much of the credit is given to Nestor De La Torre for bringing in key players, but also to Chepo for finally bringing out the best out of these players.
But throughout the season one player stands out and that was Carlos “El Titan” Salcedo, the “twitter famous Americanista”, who many fans and press doubted at the beginning of the season. Coming from the MLS, Salcedo was an unknown to many. When his move became official, the notorious Mexican press exposed year old tweets where he mocked and laughed at Chivas and showed his love for America. Fans questioned his professionalism based off those tweets and many didn’t even want him on the team. Salcedo took on this challenge as a true professional and responded to critics on the field becoming a key player for Chivas. His leadership on the team helped solidify the defense and gave a massive improvement to the back-line. He continued his great performance throughout the season and even earned himself a call from Miguel Herrera to el Tri. Along with Pereira and Lopez, Chivas became one of the best defenses in the league.
Another turning point, off the field: While every weekend Chivas was in a battle on the field, things were brewing off the field. About midway through the season, Chivas announced that Angelica Fuentes, part owner of Chivas, was released from the institution, and all control of her finances were taken back by Jorge Vergara and Grupo Omnilife. Not only was this a huge surprise to many, but it confirmed the previous speculation of a possible divorce between Fuentes and Vergara.
Since the beginning of their marriage, Angelica Fuentes was the sole decision maker in most if not all of the financial moves in the institution. It wasn’t hard to see that Fuentes stopped most of the money going into the team, resulting in many seasons without any new players. Chivas pushed this ideology that the team would do just fine with its youth system. Chivas’ front office constantly experimented with new managers that didn’t fit to the Chivas ideology. Adding to that the hiring of countless VP’s and sporting directors that had little to no power on what direction of the team needed to take. All that boiled over to the current Chivas situation, for the next couple of seasons they will be glancing over to the relegation percentage and try to avoid it.
Now, Vergara has taken responsibility of the team, and though no one wishes a divorce on anyone, this divorce seemed like a blessing in disguise to the institution. Despite a long legal battle ahead, with the release of Angelica Fuentes, the future in Chivas looks a bit more likeable.
What’s next? : Chivas can now put its relegation issues on the side for now, and can look forward to the Liguilla. Their first test will be none other than Atlas, in the Clasico Tapatio; that seems to be the most attractive match up in the first round. Chivas main objective in the season was avoiding relegation. From here on out anything is icing on the cake. Don’t get me wrong though, the new objective should and has to be the championship. Even with all their issues, Chivas is still an important team and must look for the championship, anything less would be a disappointment. Everyone in the Liguilla starts from scratch. Time to turn the page, regroup, and bring home the championship.