Most clubs would be ecstatic with the results earned by Pachuca over the past year. The last two seasons featured two Liguilla trips, two consecutive 6th place finishes, and a regular season record with a total of fourteen wins and only eight losses. Certainly nothing to be ashamed of there. The only problem is, expectations in Pachuca seem to run much higher.
Between 1999 and 2007, the Tuzos won five league titles. But since their loss to Pumas in the Clausura 2009 championship, Pachuca has failed to make a return to the finals. Now over three years later, club officials are beginning to tire of the long, slow climb back into serious championship contention.
Manager Efrain Flores certainly felt the burdensome weight of the club’s lofty expectations following the Clausura 2012 season. Despite a winning record with Pachuca, and two Liguilla appearances in his two full seasons at the helm, Flores was ultimately seen as expendable. He was quickly sent packing when club officials failed to reach an agreement over his salary.
In one of the biggest stories of the offseason, Pachuca brought in Hugo Sanchez to take his place. As a former manager of the Mexican national team, Sanchez brings global name recognition to the Tuzos, as well as a new level of respect around the league. It’s a monumental move for Pachuca, which is why club president Jesus Martinez referred to Sanchez as the team’s "best signing."
The offseason moves didn’t stop there, though. With Sanchez at the helm – and with the club willing to spend – Pachuca instantly became a more attractive destination for big name players. Featured summer additions include Raul Tamudo, a veteran Spanish striker who Pachuca management have had their eye on for years, Nery Castillo, an enigmatic talent who returns to Mexico looking to reclaim a spot on the national team, and Paulo Da Silva, a Paraguayan defender with loads of international experience. From the domestic sphere come additional players of quality, including Alberto Medina, Nestor Calderon, Jorge Daniel Hernandez, and Oscar Rojas.
This new talent load should have an immediate impact on all areas of the field. Pachuca loses defensive mainstay Javier Munoz Mustafa out on loan, but Da Silva will be an instant impact player on the backline. "Burrito" Hernandez adds talent to the central midfield, joining existing players Jose Francisco Torres and Segundo Castillo. Calderon and "Venado" Medina give the team more options on the wings. And up front, Nery Castillo and Tamudo are ready to immediately step into the starting lineup and exponentially increase the team’s scoring punch.
The moves to bring in Sanchez and players like Castillo, Tamudo, and Da Silva have to be seen as part of a major power play at Pachuca. The club is essentially pushing all of their chips to the middle of the table. Middling Liguilla appearances only mean so much, and it looks like it's been decided that now is the time to make a serious run at the trophy. With this level of talent and Sanchez at the helm, the Tuzos will enter the Apertura with an outside chance at the title. All that’s left now is for the team to prove its worth as legitimate contenders on the field. Stay tuned.
Raul Tamudo -- The veteran Spanish striker brings loads of experience and scoring ability with him to Mexico. Along with Nery Castillo, as well as returning leading scorer Mauro Cejas, Tamudo has a chance to push Pachuca into the upper echelon of Liga MX scoring offenses.
Nery Castillo -- Castillo was a breakout star when playing for Hugo Sanchez on the Mexican national team five years ago. He's obviously been humbled somewhat in the interim, but after a string of solid performances in Greece over the past year, will the reunion with Sanchez in Pachuca be Castillo's final step back to El Tri relevance?
Mark Your Calendar
Week 16 vs. Club America -- Pachuca dropped just three regular season matches during the Clausura, but one of those was a shutout loss to the Aguilas. The two sides then met again in the first round of the Liguilla, with America easily advancing to the semifinals. The Tuzos get a chance for a bit of revenge at Estadio Azteca in November, when key playoff seeding will also likely be on the line.
Liguilla -- There is absolutely no reason for this team not to earn a third straight Liguilla berth. The club’s offseason moves also give Pachuca an outside chance at making a run to the finals. The competition at the top is tough – with Santos, Tigres, Monterrey, and America leading the way – and Pachuca may not quite be at that level yet, but it looks like the Tuzos are at least on their way back into the conversation.
This is the ninth in our series of Liga MX team previews ahead of the Apertura 2012 season. See our earlier previews of San Luis, Club Atlas, Queretaro, Club Leon, Puebla, Atlante, Jaguares Chiapas, and Club Tijuana.