What can we say about Chivas? With a slew of changes to the club and a new outlook on the field, Guadalajara enters the Apertura 2012 with a renewed set of expectations. The first task for the team will be leaving the previous season in the past. The Clausura 2012 tournament was a disaster of a season, a nightmare that the fans are still trying to forget. It was the worst season in the 106-year history of the club, as Chivas ended the tournament with a very disappointing record of four wins, three ties, and ten losses, marooning them in 15th place in the league standings. But as we enter the Apertura that’s all in the past, as Chivas now looks towards the future.
During the offseason, Guadalajara proceeded to practically overhaul their team structure. There weren't huge changes on the field -- well except for Omnilife Stadium getting rid of artificial turn and adding natural grass -- but instead massive changes to the coaches and administration. Since last season, Chivas brought in Dutch legend Johan Cruyff, who was hired by owner Jorge Vergara to mold Chivas into a winning institution. Instantly, Cruyff made an impact, bringing changes on and off the field. Cruyff and Guadalajara announced the arrival of new manager John Van’t Schip, a Dutch/Canadian coach who comes from the Australian League. Though Van’t Schip has had experience with some of the best teams in Europe, coming into the Mexican league is always a challenge. Van’t Schip will try to mold the combination of youth and experience at Chivas into a winning team. Along with Van’t Schip, the entire training staff for Guadalajara was also changed, as the "Dutch transformation" was set into place.
The changes on the field, though minimal, have been big for Chivas fans, who season after season beg for new players. Vergara seems to have opened his wallet this offseason, bringing in two experienced players. At midfield, Chivas brings in Luis Ernesto Perez, a veteran of many years with Monterrey and the Mexican National Team. Perez is a player who possesses great ball control, and can use his experience to mold the youngsters around him. Up front, Chivas reinforced their front line with the addition of Rafa Marquez Lugo. Marquez Lugo is another highly experienced player who had some of his best years in Morelia. Along with youngsters like "Cubo" Torres and Carlos Fierro, Marquez Lugo will try to generate goals for Guadalajara, something they lacked greatly last season. Along with Fierro, Cubo, and Marquez Lugo, the team's best player, Marco Fabian, will try to have his "breakout" season with Chivas. After a fantastic offseason with the Mexican Olympic Squad, and attracting eyes from European teams in the process, Marco Fabian has positioned himself as one of Mexico’s most promising stars. Fans in Guadalajara hope that this season with Chivas will be one of his best.
Chivas looks to forget about the past and instead look towards what seems to be a very promising future. Though it might be quick to judge in the first games of the preseason, Van’t Schip has already raised the expectations of fans. Chivas fans, as well as many members of the Mexican media, expect Chivas to do make a complete change from last season, something that likely won't happen instantly. We still can’t forget the fact that Chivas will lose three top players, Marco Fabian, "Chaton" Enriquez, and Miguel Angel Ponce, to the Olympic squad. With these absences, Chivas may start the season slow again, but look for the team to pick it up towards weeks 6 or 7.
Luis Perez and Rafa Marquez Lugo -- When you talk about Chivas bringing in new players, there is usually nothing to talk about. Vergara has a "philosophy" that he can be successful with what he has on hand, something that proved to be very wrong last season. The acquisitions of Luis Perez and Marquez Lugo are huge additions for Chivas. Though not the youngest players in the league, the talent and experience is there. Look for Perez and Marquez Lugo to play major roles in the coming season for Chivas. Marquez Lugo has the pressure of instantly scoring with the team, and the expectations will be very high for both new players.
Olympic Players Absence -- One of the biggest obstacles for Chivas this season will be going into the Apertura tournament without three of their star players -- Miguel Ponce, Jorge "Chaton" Enriqez, and Marco Fabian -- who will be on Olympic duty in London. Ponce is a great defensive player, who has also shown that ability to push the attack. "Chaton" Enriquez, though at times inconsistent, has great ball recovery and may prove to be a good duo with Luis Perez later in the season. Fabian, as the team's biggest player, is by far the biggest loss for the Guadalajara squad. Unfortunately for Chivas fans, none of these three players will be with the team through the first several of the tournament. We will have to wait and see how Van’t Schip manages the team without these three key figures.
Mark Your Calendar
Week 2 vs. Santos Laguna -- Though the opener is always a key game, week 2 will be even more challenging because of all the expectations from fans. In the second weekend of the season, Santos Laguna will make the visit to Guadalajara (more than likely at Estadio Jalisco because of the Omnilife turf change). Chivas will face the defending champions in front of their home crowd for the first time since last season. Van’t Schip has stated that Chivas will be an offensive team who will go head to head with anyone. Well, Santos was one of the most offensive teams last season, and this game might end with a number of goals. Expect sparks to fly in this match, as Guadalajara tries to convince its fans that this season will be completely different from the last.
Fringes of Liguilla -- It can go either way for Chivas this season. It could either be a great season that ends in 6th-8th place and a Liguilla trip, or the team could miss out on the Liguilla again and end the season in 9th or 10th place. The expectations for a turnaround are obviously very high, but reality might kick in for the fans during the first half of the season. The transformation won't be instantaneous, and the adaptation of Mexican futbol for Van’t Schip and his staff might be a difficult one. Problem is, we all know the patience Mr. Vergara and his wife have with head coaches. Unfortunately, anything less than a Liguilla will be viewed as a disappointment by Chivas fans.
This is the eleventh 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, Club Tijuana, Pachuca, and Pumas UNAM.