Liga MX completed its "draft" for the Clausura 2013 season on Wednesday. It's a little tough to call it a draft as much as a bunch of guys haggling in a hotel ballroom. Actually, considering the backward "gentleman's agreement" system in place, this is more a bunch of feudal lords attending a serf auction. Mexican clubs toss out piles of cash to their brethren, swapping players in the hopes of finding gold.
While the results of this grand swap can be measured in dollars and new contracts, it can be difficult to decipher successes and failures. Acquiring a bunch of known commodities doesn't necessarily translate into on the field performance. This summer, Pumas and Pachuca were lauded for opening their wallets wide to bring in some "big names". Both teams proceeded with dreadful seasons and multiple manager firings.
With all of that being said, I'm going to plow forward and pass some (more) judgment on these "draft" proceedings. There were winners. There were losers. And there was most certainly comedy.
Best Unloading: Cruz Azul
This one almost brought tears to my eyes ... tears of joy. Bravo's year at Cruz Azul was less than ideal. Bravo never became a regular and failed to contribute positively while on the field. The home fans jeered him due to his Chivas past (which is likely to occur again at Atlas), and he never provided a reason to halt the negativity. Bravo admits that his time with Cruz Azul was a failure, and vows to turn things around at Atlas. Anything is possible, except of course this. Bravo's days as an impact player seem to be past him.
Best Acquisition: Pachuca
Angel Reyna is a controversial figure in Mexico. He tends to find his way in to headlines too often, and it's rarely for positive reasons. Yet, his skill set and past performances must command a ton of respect. He can be an offensive difference maker for any team, including the national team.
His success will largely depend upon how he is handled in Pachuca. Reyna is someone who needs consistent playing time, which was hard to come by in Monterrey. However, it probably behooves the team to avoid having Reyna be "the man." If Reyna could buy in to the team's approach this could be a steal for Pachuca.
Greener Pastures: Jose Torres
Moving from the dysfunctional debacle that was Pachuca to the well-oiled machine of Tuca Ferretti's Tigres is a nice move for ‘Gringo' Torres. Jose Torres spent his entire career with Pachuca. Moving to a new team for the first time will undoubtedly be a challenge. Yet, if Torres is able to step up to the task, he will be much better for it. Ferretti has a talented and disciplined squad. Playing in Ferretti's Tigres could be a great step in the career of Torres.
Who Needs a Plan: Santos Laguna
Santos finalized a bizarre swap of players with Pachuca. Santos sent Daniel Ludueña and Christian Suarez to Pachuca in exchange for Nestor Calderon and Mauro Cejas. Ludueña was actually one of Santos's most consistent scoring threats this past season. Suarez is another attacking midfielder who proved to be a valuable asset to Santos, especially in their title run last spring.
Changes were to be expected. They are coming off an incredibly disappointing Apertura season. However, their major flaw continues to be a porous defense. Santos has been ridiculously stacked with scoring threats, but is consistently weak in the back. Sending quality like Ludueña and Suarez out in exchange for players that could bolster the backline would make a lot of sense.
Nestor Calderon and Mauro Cejas won't be doing that for Santos. This was a trade of two offensive midfielders for two other offensive midfielders (who might not be as good). Ludueña and Suarez had proven themselves as assets at Santos. Cejas has been a valued member of Pachuca, but Calderon failed to live up to the potential he showed with Toluca.
Santos has been such a quality team for some time that they need to be given the benefit of the doubt. But this move really makes me wonder what the long term plan is. Actually, it makes me wonder if there is a plan at all.
Like the Good Ol' Days: Puebla
Puebla doesn't operate on the largest budget. Their moves need to be smart without a lot of swinging strikes. The return of Felix Borja just might be a quality hit.
Borja played with Puebla in 2011, before being transferred to Pachuca. Pachuca is currently cleaning house and sent Borja back to Puebla. The Ecuadorian forward had a successful run with Puebla the first time. Puebla is surely hoping for a repeat performance.
Felix Borja has sparks of brilliance in front of goal (including his celebrations). He can be a real target man for Puebla, a team that has desperately needed another quality goal-scorer. Borja hasn't always been in great form, but a return to Puebla just might be the answer.
Biggest Gamble: Leon
Leon is coming off a remarkable first season in Liga MX. After ascending to the first division, they proceeded to take the league by storm. They finished third in the league, qualified for Copa Libertadores, and gave Tijuana everything they had in a tightly contested semifinal.
There were many keys to their success, including coach, Gustavo Matosas. Matosas must get plenty of credit for the job he has done with this team. Another important aspect of their team was their willingness to stick with their winning core. The core of team largely remained intact after achieving promotion to the top division. This was a group that learned to play winning soccer in the Ascenso division and successfully carried that over to Liga MX.
Leon has now rolled the dice with the chemistry that got them this success. They brought in two players with a wealth of talent but very different degrees of success.
Rafa Marquez is not only a world-class player but a legend in Mexico. His time in Europe, including seven seasons and twelve titles with Catalan giant, Barcelona, solidified him as one of the two most successful Mexican football players in history.
However, in 2010, after being released by Barcelona, Marquez signed with MLS and the New York Red Bulls. His time there has been less than ideal. He has displayed disdain for the league, his teammates, and apparently maintaining his level of play. Red Bulls and MLS fans alike are more than happy to see Marquez leaving the league.
The question remains as to whether Marquez will be able to regain his stellar form. Surely another reason for bringing in Marquez is the hope that he could be a positive leader in the locker room. Leon is a young team and could benefit from the guidance of someone who will instantly command a ton of respect, like Marquez.
The likelihood is that Marquez will right the ship and perform at a higher level now that he is back in Mexico. Certainly, with the added Libertadores participation, experience like that of Marquez will be a valued commodity.
For as much of a gamble as the Marquez acquisition is, the Nery Castillo signing was completely bizarre. There will be no tears shed from Pachuca fans for the departure of Castillo. He was brought home from his long European exodus to Mexico by Hugo Sanchez in the summer. Neither Sanchez nor Castillo impressed during their short stay. While it's clear that Pachuca is dismantling much of Sanchez's team, it's still not a good sign when a team ditches a player five months after signing him.
Castillo is a player with great skill. He displayed it in the past with Olympiacos and El Tri. It's just been a while since he has played to the level that put him in those positions.
No matter how these two signings work out, it's clear that manager, Gustavo Matosas, has his work cut out for him. Balancing the collective spirit of the locker room and the magic they had together with these two new acquisitions will likely be monumental task.
Worst Overall: Toluca
It's difficult to judge who missed out and who took the biggest misstep at this point. There were several teams that remained silent through this process. Time will tell if avoiding this crop of available players was a wise move or not.
There was one team that did pick up a few players, and some of those players seem like strange choices. Toluca had a great run this season under returning manager, Enrique Meza. Finishing the regular season in first and reaching the final when few had them picked to finish in the top eight is quite the feat. So, a drastic overhaul this offseason would be a strange choice. Adding a few pieces here or there would make more sense. However, the pieces they did add are just a bit off.
Bill Simmons likes to point out that it's never a good sign when the fans of the team that let the player go are overjoyed to see him off. Los Angeles Angels fans laughed when the Red Sox signed John Lackey to a long term deal. Red Sox fans have since despaired. Toluca picked up defender, Fausto Pinto, and midfielder, Xavi Baez, this week. Neither of their previous teams will miss these two.
As a whole, Chivas fans never seemed overly thrilled with the exploits of Baez. Whatever promise he once might have shown, his performances of late reek of missed potential. Fausto Pinto, once a regular starter for Cruz Azul, has struggled to find regular playing time since the departure of Enrique Meza. His little time on the field of late has made the reasoning behind this clear. He's just not that good any more. Pinto is a yellow card machine who consistently makes bad tackles in the worst of times. Meza clearly still has an affinity for him, but the fans at Estadio Azul won't miss his presence.
Best Overall: Chivas
Hey, Chivas won something! It's meaningless, but still ...
The acquisition of Miguel Sabah is an absolute steal for the Guadalajara club. Sabah has been one of the most consistent scoring threats in the league over the past few years. He is now able to reunite with his former teammate Rafa Marquez Lugo. Sabah and Marquez Lugo constituted one the scariest front lines in the league with Morelia. Reuniting at Chivas with the speed and playmaking abilities of some of the talented Guadalajara midfielders behind them will make for a much more competent scoring offense. Chivas only managed to score seventeen goals in seventeen matches this past season. This boost should make them a much more competitive team.
On a smaller scale, they were able to let go of the aforementioned Baez and avoid acquiring Angel Reyna. I'm obviously a fan of Reyna, but with his Club America past, Chivas fans would likely not be that welcoming.
Adding Sabah accompanied with two minor wins for the fan base gives the edge to Chivas this offseason. Enjoy it Chivas fans, or Jorge Vergara will challenge you to a duel.