After a decade as one of the best-run clubs in the Mexican Primera, things completely and dramatically fell apart for Pachuca last season. The Tuzos managed just four wins, suffered a midseason coaching change, and struggled to a last place finish in their group, far outside of postseason contention. One of the worst offenses in the league, Pachuca went on a ten match run through the middle of the season in which they scored a grand total of three goals. The club's Tuzo mascot is a burrowing animal, but it was the fans who were left wanting to bury their heads in the ground after last season's dismal performance.
In response to the Clausura disaster, club management decided to clean house. At the end of last season, the entire team was placed on the transfer market. The resulting moves led to a complete overhaul of the Pachuca offense, which was no surprise considering the scoring problems. Gone are strikers Franco Arizala and Herculez Gomez. Edgar Benitez is also close to officially moving on, possibly signing with Olimpia in his home nation of Paraguay. These three players accounted for 11 of Pachuca's 16 goals scored last season.
Taking their place is a battalion of impressive attacking talent. The new strikers arriving in Pachuca include Felix Borja, Enrique Esqueda, and Jamie Ayovi. Borja is an Ecuadorian striker who netted six goals for Puebla last season, Esqueda comes over from Club America looking for a fresh start, and Ayovi, another Ecuadorian, impressed with Toluca last season, his first in the Mexican Primera. Also joining Pachuca are attacking midfielders Mauro Cejas and Elias Hernandez. Cejas scored 14 goals for Estudiantes Tecos over the past two seasons, while Hernandez had five goals and six assists for Morelia in the Clausura. Further reinforcements in the midfield include two veterans from South America -- Ecuadorian Segundo Castillo and Colombian Andres Chitiva. That's a total of seven new players talented enough to play a featured role in the Pachuca rebuilding efforts on offense.
On defense, the one big loss is right back Paul Aguilar, who is now with Club America. The core of the backline should remain the same, though. Veterans Leobardo Lopez and Javier Munoz Mustafa will claim their usual spots in central defense. Look for Carlos Gerardo Rodriguez and newcomer Rogelio Chavez to grab the outside back positions.
One lingering question mark is goalkeeping. Forty-year-old Miguel Calero, who has manned the Pachuca net for over ten years, battled serious health problems at the end of last season. Calero says he's good for at least another season, but look for increasing time in goal from his heir-apparent Rodolfo Cota. Cota has logged a lot of minutes for Pachuca during the preseason and looks to be the starter in goal on opening weekend.
With Efrain Flores returning as manager, the pressure will be on to return to the Liguilla. Flores took over in the middle of last season for Pablo Marini, and to his credit made modest improvements. While he only earned two wins in eight matches, Pachuca did score eleven goals in their last six matches of the season (after scoring just five in their first eleven). Considering all the new talent in the attacking third, there's really no reason these numbers can't continue to increase. Flores will likely deploy some combination of Cejas and Hernandez in attacking midfield roles, behind Esqueda and Borja up front. He also has the luxury of a solid core of existing midfield talent on the team's roster, including Jose Francisco Torres, Raul Martinez, and Juan Carlos Rojas. Not to mention young legend Julio Gomez, who was the breakout star of the U-17 World Cup.
After averaging over 30 goals a game for four seasons, Pachuca finished with just sixteen last season. That number was the team's lowest scoring total in modern club history. Pachuca is a proud franchise, and another season of struggles simply won't be tolerated. Flores needs to quickly find the right combination of players from his new talent pool, and begin the turnaround process as soon as possible. The last thing any Pachuca fan wants to see is a reminder of the disaster that was last season.
Elias Hernandez -- The best bet to spark the turnaround in Pachuca's attack is Hernandez. Great at providing service and setting up the strikers, Hernandez can also score himself when given the opportunity. With five goals and six assists last season, he was a big factor in Morelia's success. Hernandez is just the type of dynamic wing player Pachuca has been lacking the last few seasons.
Potential Breakout Star
Mauro Cejas -- The 25-year-old Argentinian is an immensely talented player, but has operated outside of the spotlight at Estudiantes Tecos over the past few years. Now on a higher profile team, he has the chance to break out on the national stage. Cejas scored seven goals in each of the past two seasons for Tecos. The team as a whole managed 39 goals over this period, meaning Cejas single-handedly accounted for 36% of the Tecos scoring over the last 12 months.
Borderline Liguilla Qualification -- The first challenge will be settling on a consistent lineup with all the new players. Whatever shape Pachuca takes, the team certainly has the talent to improve dramatically on last season's finish. This roster should be good enough to finish in the 6th to 8th place range and lock down a Liguilla spot. Any lower in the standings and it will likely be a wrap for Efrain Flores.
This is the eleventh 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, San Luis, UANL Tigres, and Chivas Guadalajara.