Mexican Primera Previews, Apertura 2011, Team By Team: Monarcas Morelia

Morelia manger Tomas Boy hopes to lead his team back to the Liguilla finals this season.

No team showed greater improvements than Morelia over the course of last season. The upward trajectory of the team's success during the Clausura was truly remarkable. Morelia were roundly written off after a rough start to the year, which included a 0-5 loss to Atlas in the opener, and just one win in their first five matches. But with an incredible turnaround, the Monarcas closed the regular season winning eight of their last twelve, finished third overall in the standings, and made a run all the way to the Liguilla finals.

The key to Morelia's amazing reversal of fortunes was the play of Rafael Marquez Lugo and Elias Hernandez. Both players appeared in every match for Monarcas last season, from the opening weekend to the second leg of the championship final. A veteran striker, Marquez Lugo led the team with thirteen goals, including four during the team’s postseason run. While he has now spent over a decade in the Mexican Primera, last season may have been the best of Lugo's career.

The play of Hernandez, a 23-year-old dynamic winger, was just as key to Morelia's success. Hernandez helped power the team's turnaround with five goals and five assists during the regular season. Unfortunately for Morelia, he moved on to Pachuca during the offseason. The loss of Hernandez is a big one for Morelia, who now must somehow find a way to replace his creative attacking presence.

Even with that loss, Morelia still have a solid core of existing talent in the midfield. One such player is the young Ecuadorian Joao Rojas. Rojas scored five goals for Morelia in the Clausura, which was his first ever season in the Mexican Primera. Also returning are Jaime Lozano, Aldo Leao Ramirez, and Jorge Gastelum. Lozano is a quality presence on the wing, while Ramirez and Gastelum remain Morelia's two best defensive midfielders.

The midfield unit will be further bolstered by new acquisitions Damian Manso and Edgar Gerardo Lugo. The veteran Manso is always a great energy player to have on the roster, and even at 32 years of age still has the speed and skill to make an impact. Even more intriguing is Edgar Lugo, who had a solid season as an attacking midfielder for Puebla last season, and is definitely good enough to crack the starting lineup at Morelia.

On defense, the core of the backline remains the same. Enrique Perez, Joel Huiqui, and Adrian Aldrete should all reclaim their usual defensive roles, with the possible addition of Yasser Corona. Behind them, the veteran Argentinian keeper Frederico Vilar will man the goal in what is now his third season with Monarcas.

One big challenge for Morelia will be getting through the first three weeks of the season without manager Tomas Boy on the sideline. Boy's suspension by the league was part of the fallout from the brawl between Morelia and Cruz Azul in last season’s Liguilla semifinals. His absence from the bench only complicates the immediate task of finding the best attacking midfield lineup to minimize the loss of Hernandez. There are plenty of options on the roster, with Rojas, Lozano, Edgar Lugo, and Manso all great attacking players. Up front, Marquez Lugo and the always-dependable Miguel Sabah present a formidable one-two scoring punch. Luis Gabriel Rey, who was a key substitute at striker last season, has moved on to Jaguares, so there will be a bit less depth up front. Lugo and Sabah probably both need to stay healthy for this team to have any shot at another run to the Liguilla finals.

Potential Breakout Star

Joao Rojas -- Only 22-years-old, Rojas had a successful stint in the Ecuadorian leagues before coming to Mexico last year. During his first season in the Primera, Rojas started 20 of 23 matches for Morelia and proved to be an invaluable contributor with five goals and five assists. With the loss of Hernandez this season, Rojas’s already important role with the team will take on even greater significance.

Key Acquisition

Edgar Gerardo Lugo -- Another player who can help assuage the loss of Hernandez is Edgar Lugo. An important component of the Puebla offense last season, Lugo will now become a key attacking midfielder for Morelia, either in the starting lineup or off bench.

Prediction

Liguilla -- It will be extremely difficult for Morelia to match last season’s third place finish in the standings, as well as their appearance in the championship finals. Tomas Boy certainly proved his worth as manager by bringing out the best in his team over the second half of the Clausura, but it's a tough task to duplicate. Last season Morelia tied with Club America as the top scoring team in the league, but without Hernandez the offense will likely take a bit of a hit. Even so, the roster still has plenty of talent and should manage a return trip to Liguilla. A finish somewhere in the 5th to 8th place spot would be a good bet.

This is the fifteenth in our series of Mexican Primera team previews. Check out the earlier previews of Club Tijuana XolosQueretaro FCJaguares de ChiapasEstudiantes TecosClub AtlasPuebla FCAtlante FC,San LuisUANL Tigres, Chivas Guadalajara, Pachuca, Santos Laguna, Club America, and Pumas UNAM.

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