After winning the league title in the 2011 Apertura, there wasn’t much of a letdown for Tigres last season. The team won nine games and earned their third straight top five finish in the league standings (only Tigres has finished in the top five of the table in each of the past three seasons). In the end, the defending champions were eliminated in a hard-fought semifinal series against Santos – one in which Santos never defeated Tigres, yet advanced with an aggregate draw as the better-seeded team. This season Tigres look to maintain their high level of recent success, and make a run at their second trophy in twelve months.
The biggest offseason loss at Tigres was the departure of striker Hector Mancilla to Atlas. The veteran Chilean was a fixture up top for Tigres over the past three seasons, and his departure leaves a void. On second glance, though, maybe this move came at the right time. Mancilla is probably entering the downslope of his career, and Tigres bring enough weapons to the table in the attacking third to more than make up for his departure.
More important than Mancilla to the offense is actually the man who played just behind him: Lucas Lobos. The leading scorer for Tigres last season, Lobos guides the team’s attack out of the middle of the field. He is supported up front by the returning Damian Alvarez and Elias Hernandez, two players who are at their best sliding in from the left and right wings.
That still leaves the question, though, of who steps into Mancilla’s shoes and takes over the target striker role. Will it be high-profile new acquisition Luis Garcia Fernandez? The veteran Spanish striker comes to Mexico from Real Zaragoza, bringing years of proven scoring ability. If Garcia can quickly acclimate himself to the Liga MX game, he will be a force to be reckoned with. Other options for Tigres are young striker Alan Pulido, a player poised for a breakout year, Edno, a Brazilian forward who joined the team last season, and Taufic Guarch, another youngster who has shown flashes of brilliance during his short career. This collection of veterans and youth gives Tigres a level of depth up front they haven’t had in several seasons.
The other end of the field, though, is where this team really shines. Manager Tuca Ferretti’s deliberate style necessitates a talented defense, and at Tigres he has one of the best in the league. The team’s backline is anchored by central defenders Hugo Ayala and Juninho, two players who started every match for Tigres last season. On the left side is Mexican National Teamer Jorge Torres Nilo, and on the right is Israel Jimenez. The unit is further strengthened by the talented defensive midfield duo of Carlos Salcido and Manuel Viniegra. Tigres will have to deal with the temporary loss of Salcido and Jimenez to start the season, as both are on Olympic duty in London, but the team’s relatively easy early schedule makes this less of an issue.
Position by position Tigres feature one of the strongest starting lineups in the league. With Ferretti at the helm, there is no reason to doubt that this team can finish near the top of the league table for the fourth straight season. Although Tigres will also be competing in the CONCACAF Champions League, the team’s increasing depth should allow them to succeed both domestically and internationally. The competition at the top with fellow northern giants Santos and Monterrey will be as tough as always, but Tigres are a team that cannot be overlooked in the Apertura championship conversation.
Luis Garcia -- One of two Spanish Luis Garcias in the league this season (shout out to Luis Garcia Sanz at Pumas), the Tigres newcomer has the potential to become a key part of the team’s attack.
Potential Breakout Star
Alan Pulido -- Another option for Tigres up top is the 21-year-old Pulido. Look for Pulido’s playing time to greatly increase this season, along with his scoring numbers. It already looks like Garcia won’t be ready for the Friday night opener vs. Jaguares, so don’t be surprised to see Pulido begin the season with a breakout performance if given the starting nod.
Mark Your Calendar
Week 16 vs. Monterrey -- Last season Tigres were embarrassed in a shutout loss against Monterrey at the Estadio Tecnologico. The chance for revenge against their crosstown rivals comes in the first weekend of November.
Top Four -- With a loaded roster and plenty of big game experience, Tigres will grab one of the top seeds in the Liguilla. If Luis Garcia can acclimate himself to the new league, and young players like Alan Pulido can make the leap, this is a team that will be playing in the 2012 Apertura finals.
This is the seventeenth 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, Cruz Azul, Monarcas Morelia, Club America, and Monterrey.