Mexican Primera Previews, Apertura 2011, Team By Team: Puebla FC

Many of the familiar faces are gone, but will Puebla still have reason to celebrate?

A middling Puebla side did enough to keep its head above water in the 2010-2011 season, albeit with a rotating season of managers, but this season, the team is out to shake things up in a bid to re-establish a permanent presence in the Primera. Two eye-catching signings from abroad have caught the eye, and combined with a host of solid players from within Mexico, Puebla fans might have reason to hope for the team's first significant silverware since 1991, so long as the team can keep a lid on the manager's position.

It will be a bit of a longshot – even with the team's whirlwind of transfer activity, a glance at the roster suggests that a playoff berth might be possible, but it would take an excellent run of form so sustain a challenge, given the quality of other teams. What would be a disappointing result, though, would be for Puebla to slide the wrong way down the average points table. While the six teams below Puebla provide some cushion, and indeed, it is likely one of them that will be relegated, Puebla looks to have the quality to at least push a few places higher, leaving the worry of relegation behind.

A good deal of quality can be found in those two signings from abroad. Luis Garcia, formerly of Barcelona, Atlético Madrid, and Liverpool, came on a free from Greek outfit Panathinaikos. While he may have lost a yard or two of pace at age 32, he still brings a great deal of skill and good range of passing in the attacking positions. Puebla also added American winger DaMarcus Beasley after an unsuccessful spell at Hannover that saw the speedy left-sided player struggle with injury.

Less recognized, but possibly as important could be the signing of Colombian striker Duvier Riascos from Venezuelan side Estudiantes de Mérida on loan, after he posted incredible numbers on loan in China over the past year. However, Puebla's activity did not stop with the signings from overseas, as the club has made over almost its entire squad. Gone are the likes of Edgar Castillo (América), Félix Borja (Pachuca) and Gerardo Lugo (Morelia), along with 12 other players. Indeed, while there was not one aspect of Puebla's play that was glaringly worse than the others, the simple fact was, the attack often wasn't prolific enough and the defense certainly wasn't tight enough to make any sustained foray into the upper half of the table last season.

On their way to the southern club, though, you'll see some recognizable names. Veteran striker Daniel Osorno (Atlas) will help provide more punch in the attack, supporting last season's top scorer for the club, Gabriel Pereyra, who remains with Puebla. Gonzalo Pineda was brought in from Cruz Azul to shore up the defense, and while has had a few stumbles in the preseason, Puebla can be reasonably confident that he can shore up the defense with the help of another new signing, Diego Cervantes from América.

Between the sticks, Mario Rodríguez will take over after joining from Tecos, the worst defensive team in the league over the last season. While this isn't exactly inspiring news, fans should be reasonably confident in the job that Rodríguez can do, so long as his defense settles in.

Indeed, settling in could prove to be the key for Puebla this season. With nearly 20 new signings and a new manager in Sergio Bueno, gelling as a team could be difficult in the early stages of the season. Some reasonable preseason results, including a 1-0 win over Monterrey, show some promise, and a fairly easy opening to the season means the team potentially has a big confidence builder ahead of more trying tests further on in the season. Nonetheless, Bueno and his charges could be in deep trouble should they struggle early on, which in turn could lead the club to another helping of last year's chaos.

Key Player

Diego Cervantes -- Puebla's defense was certainly on the leaky side last year, and Diego Cervantes is the man they have tasked with steadying the ship. A dominant force in the air and an intelligent player, Cervantes couldn't find himself a first-team spot at América, so opted to make the move south. It should be an agreeable arrangement for both Puebla and the player, and a steady season in the center of defense will lend strong credentials to any possible playoff push.

Potential Breakout Player

Duvier Riascos -- While at age 25, he might be on a bit on the old side for the tag of a breakout player, his status as a relative unknown in the world of Mexican football makes it an appropriate tag. The Colombian striker spent the early part of his career middling around the Colombian and Venezuelan leagues. However, in 2010, he landed on loan at Shanghai Shenhua, going on a goalscoring tear to claim the Chinese Super League Golden Boot with 20 goals. While his temper raises questions (he faced disciplinary action for spitting in the face of an Australian opponent in the AFC Champions League), his goalscoring talent is clearly there. If he can make the step up to the Mexican league this season, he could be vital to Puebla's fortunes.

Prediction

Mid-table finish -- Puebla's activities in the transfer market have certainly not gone unnoticed, but the upheaval brought about last season and in this season's transfer dealings could hinder the team's start. They have the quality to perhaps push for a Liguilla spot, but a more reasonable expectation would be for the team to better its 13th and 14th place finishes in last year's Apertura and Clausura, respectively. Ninth or tenth place should be right around where we will see la franja when all is said and done.

This is the sixth in our series of Mexican Primera team previews. Check out the earlier previews of Club Tijuana XolosQueretaro FCJaguares de ChiapasEstudiantes Tecos, and Club Atlas. 

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