Six months ago, UANL Tigres were the biggest story of the winter offseason in Mexico. The club made a tremendous splash with several high profile signings, including key attacking talent such as Hector Mancilla, Danilinho, and Carlos Ochoa. The massive stack of money dropped on the new personnel proved to be worth it. Tigres went from missing the Liguilla in the 2010 Apertura, to finishing the 2011 Clausura regular season in first place.
This year the club sticks mainly with it’s existing talent. Spending was slightly more subdued, although Tigres did manage to scrounge up 3 million or so dollars to sign Edgar Pacheco from cash-strapped Atlas. Pacheco is a huge talent and was one of the more coveted players of the summer offseason. The young winger looked great playing with the senior national team in a few friendlies this spring, and gained some further international experience with Mexico's Copa America squad. Now with Tigres, Pacheco represents the latest piece in what has become an embarrassment of riches in the attacking third.
In addition to striker Hector Mancilla, Tigres now have arguably four of the best attacking midfielders in the league on their roster. The challenge will be finding a way to work Pacheco, Danilinho, Lucas Lobos, and Damian Alvarez all onto the field. Tigres manager Ricardo Ferretti usually deployed a 4-2-3-1 formation last season, with Alvarez on the left, Lobos in the middle, and Danilinho on the right, behind Mancilla up front. All indications are that Ferretti will stick with a similar lineup this season, leaving Pacheco as a potential game-changing super-sub off the bench.
No matter who takes the field, it's a veritable maelstrom of attacking talent. With superior speed (Danilino and Alverez), skill (Lobos), and scoring touch (Mancilla), Tigres will be one of the most imposing offenses in the league -- at least on paper. You could argue that while Tigres certainly got the results last season, the attacking unit didn't fully hold up its end of the bargain. The real class of the team wasn't the four men at the front, it was actually the four at the back.
The Tigres backline of Jorge Torres Nilo, Juninho, Hugo Ayala, and Israel Jimenez started every match last season, and conceded just nine goals in seventeen regular season games -- by far the best defensive numbers in the league. The unit was truly dominant, earning eleven shutouts and going on a tear in the middle of the season where they conceded just one goal in eight matches. In many of the Tigres wins it was actually the defense carrying the team to victory. This season all four defenders return, so expect a very similar lineup at the back as well.
The only slightly unsettled area of the field will be the defensive midfield. While it's probably splitting hairs on a team with so much talent, the defensive midfield position is the only weak point on the roster. Last season it was usually David Toledo alongside either Manuel Viniegra or Jesus Molina (and occasionally Jonathan Bornstein). Molina has moved on to Club America, so we may see a few new combinations of players at this spot.
On the bench, there will be a solid core of talent backing up the front four. Striker Emmanuel Cerda joins the team from Atlas, and young midfielder Fernando Navarro comes over from Atlante. Existing players Alberto Acosta and Francisco Acuna provide backup on the wings, while young striker Alan Pulido can be called in for further support up top.
One thing Tigres cannot do is improve on their place in the regular season standings. What they can do is improve on their finish in the postseason. The fantastic Clausura run ultimately ended in disappointment, when Tigres became the latest victims of the "superlider curse." Instead of making a run to the finals, Tigres were bounced out of the Liguilla in the first round by #8-seeded Chivas. This year the team looks to erase that painful memory.
The fans are certainly ready to see a deep postseason run. Probably the most loyal fanbase in the entire league, Tigres supporters have not seen their team win a title in almost 30 years. With the talent on the roster this season, expectations deserve to be high. With the core of the team returning from last year’s impressive squad, the next step will be to make a run at the elusive trophy.
Lucas Lobos -- The Argentinian is the key man in the Tigres front four. He’s a great distributor of the ball, as well as a solid scorer in his own right. The team captain, Lobos started all but two matches for Tigres over the past two seasons. It was his presence that helped ease the transition of Mancilla and Danilinho into the squad during the Clausura. Lobos does turn 30 in August, but should be able to play a few more seasons at his expected high level.
Edgar Pacheco -- At only 21 years of age, Pacheco has a bright future ahead of him. Tigres beat out several other teams during the offseason to nab the top young winger in the Mexican Primera. And while Pacheco will likely start out in a supporting role for Tigres, looks for him to make a huge impact on games as a second half substitute.
Superlider challenger -- Tigres have one of the most talented rosters in the league. They bring stability in the lineup carried over from last season, while adding Pacheco and a few other solid supporting players. As the best team in the Clausura regular season, there's no reason why Tigres can't finish in one of the top three spots during the Apertura.
This is the ninth in our series of Mexican Primera team previews. Check out the earlier previews of Club Tijuana Xolos, Queretaro FC, Jaguares de Chiapas, Estudiantes Tecos, Club Atlas, Puebla FC, Atlante FC, and San Luis.