Heading into the 2012 Apertura, Monarcas Morelia is a team in transition. Although the club has retained some of the important talent that has led them to recent success, including top scorer Miguel Sabah, there have also been several notable changes. Morelia has hired a new coach, Ruben Omar Romano, who previously led the Monarcas between 2002-2004. On the field, Morelia has lost some of their vital pieces of recent seasons, but the team also brings in several intriguing players with loads of potential. All in all, this team has considerable question marks that make it difficult to predict exactly how they will stack up against the competition in 2012. In many ways, this looks to be a team trying to rebuild without bottoming out.
Besides the offseason departure of previous coach Tomas Boy, who is well-known for getting teams to a competitive position in the league table only to fall just short in the Liguilla, Morelia also lost both Lugos, Rafael Marquez and Gerardo. Rafael Marquez Lugo has departed for Chivas, where he is expected to provide a veteran presence for a very young attacking corps. Gerardo Lugo has joined defending champions Santos Laguna, who had an embarrassment of riches in attack even before his acquisition. The departure of both these players could prove costly for Morelia up front. Sabah was often most successful during the past couple seasons when both Lugos drew defenders away, leaving him with great scoring opportunities. In the back, Morelia also lost Adrian Aldrete to Club America. Although Aldrete wasn't much of a scorer, he was a fixture in the lineup, and Romano will need to find a replacement who can fill the left side of the field, either in midfield or defense.
One big reason for optimism heading into the season is the arrival of Jefferson Montero from Villareal. Montero is a 22-year old from Ecuador who spent a small amount of time in Mexico with Dorados in 2008 before moving to Spain. He is unquestionably the marquee signing for Morelia in the offseason, and will be expected to provide an attacking element on the wing, creating space and setting up the forwards. In addition, Monarcas add 21-year old forward Antonio Pedroza, who has returned to Mexico on loan after seeing limited action in his first season in England. Pedroza played very well for Jaguares before being snapped up by Crystal Palace due to his English heritage (and passport). If Pedroza can get consistent minutes, while bringing extra motivation to improve before presumably heading back to England, it could help Morelia's chances in earning a liguilla spot this season.
In a bid likely intended to get some winning mojo from the current champs, Morelia has also obtained a quartet of players on loan from Santos Laguna: defender Uriel Alvarez, midfielder Carlos Morales, midfielder Francisco Torres, and forward Carlos Ochoa. Imagine a striker partnership of Ochoa and Sabah, with a combined age of 66! More likely, Ochoa will come off the bench as he did for Santos in recent months.
Jefferson Montero -- If Montero can click with Sabah and compatriot Joao Rojas quickly, Morelia may find no dip in their recent form. Although he's returning from Spain without finding a consistent spot in the lineup, he could find the Liga MX more suited to his playing style. Montero could follow in the recent footsteps of Christian Benitez and Humberto Suazo as promising South Americans who couldn't quite get a steady foothold in Europe before turning to greener pastures in Mexico. If this is indeed the path that Montero is about to head down, Morelia will have made a shrewd purchase indeed.
Mark Your Calendar
Week 2 vs. Monterrey -- The Rayados may have fallen short in the 2012 Clausura final, but with a team that has largely stayed intact, they should again be among the league's best in the coming season. This home match for Morelia should provide a good measuring stick to see if the group can gel quickly in the Apertura and hold their own against the CONCACAF champions.
Mid-Table, outside of liguilla qualification -- The team will hit a sustained slump at some point this season. Although the talent is there, the players and coaching staff will need time to adjust, and as a result Morelia will likely be thinking of their chances in the 2013 Clausura long before the 2012 Apertura is over. They won't be a bad team, but they won't have the consistency to qualify for the liguilla this tournament. Look for a finish around 11th place.
This is the fourteenth 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, Pumas UNAM, Chivas Guadalajara, Toluca, and Cruz Azul.