Last season was over almost before it began for Jaguares. The team's Clausura 2011 chances effectively ended the moment Jackson Martinez suffered a serious injury in January. With their star striker out for three months, Jaguares limped to an embarrassing dead last place finish in the full league table. The one redeeming bright spot for the club was an improbable run to the quarterfinals of Copa Libertadores. In the midst of a nightmare domestic campaign, last spring's Copa Libertadores accomplishments stood out as an escapist dream.
Back home in league play, things weren't so pretty. The Clausura 2011 regular season numbers really speak for themselves:
-18th place in the standings (out of 18 teams).
-11 losses (in 17 matches).
-15 total goals scored (only relegated Necaxa managed fewer).
-30 goals conceded (good enough to finish as statistically the league's third-worst defense).
Obviously there is room for improvement in all areas, but one point of focus has to be on bumping up the scoring numbers. One simple fix would be Martinez staying healthy for an entire season. The more time the Colombian striker spends on the field, the more goals he's going to score. This year, Martinez will be further bolstered by two of his countrymen -- Luis Gabriel Rey and Franco Arizala -- who joined the team this summer.
Rey was the biggest-name signing by Jaguares this offseason, and he joins the team from Morelia. While a proven striker, Rey is also 31 years old, likely putting his best goal-scoring days behind him. Somewhat more intriguing is the signing of Arizala. With an impressive scoring resume in the Colombian league, Arizala made the move to Mexico a year ago, but never quite found his footing in two seasons with Pachuca. He showed flashes of brilliance, but scored only eight goals during his time with the Tuzos (four of them coming in the Apertura 2010 Liguilla quarterfinals against Monterrey). Now in a new system, and alongside some familiar players, Arizala may be due for a breakout season.
Jaguares will need both of these new acquisitions to come through, with attacking talent such as Damian Manso and Antonio Pedroza moving on. The veteran Manso will be with Morelia this season, while Pedroza takes his talents overseas to Tottenham.
One sure-thing is that a new face will be manning the net in Chiapas. In one of the least surprising offseason moves in all of Mexico, Jaguares cast off disgraced goalkeeper Jorge Villalpando. Last year's starter sealed his fate back in May when he attacked manager Jose Guadalupe Cruz after being subbed out of a Copa Libertadores match. The best bet to take his place is Edgar Hernandez, who returns after a loan period with Puebla.
While the overall goal for Jaguares will be a return trip to the Liguilla (a feat they managed just one year ago in the Apertura 2010 season), the results won't come easy. A postseason trip with this roster, while certainly possible, would take some serious overachievement. After the struggles of last season, Jaguares fans should really take comfort in just seeing improvements in the team's play on the field. And improvement really should be a given, as after an 18th place finish, moving upward is really the only direction left to go.
Jackson Martinez -- It's no secret that he's the key to any Jaguares success. Martinez played in just two regular season games last season and still finished as the team's second-leading scorer. His brilliance was on full display last April, as he returned from injury to lead Jaguares into the Copa Libertadores quarterfinals with three goals against Junior de Barranquilla.
Lingering Question Mark
The backline -- The only new defensive acquisition of note is Orlando Rincon. Rincon is a solid player, and was a regular starter on Puebla's backline last season, but doesn't have the ability to spark a turnaround on his own. Rincon joins existing veteran defenders such as Omar Flores, Ismael Fuentes, and Miguel Martinez. Can this unit improve on last season's mediocre performance?
Mid-table, outside of Liguilla qualification -- With Rey and Arizala joining Martinez in the attack, scoring numbers will definitely improve. This bump in offensive production will be enough to keep the team slightly above the relegation zone, but not enough to make a Liguilla run. Look for Jaguares to finish somewhere in the 10th - 14th place range.
This is the third in our series of Mexican Primera team previews. Check out the earlier previews of Club Tijuana Xolos and Queretaro FC.