Expectations are modest for Estudiantes Tecos this season, even those of the man in charge. Manager Jose Luis Sanchez Sola, better known as "Chelis," has all but admitted that his squad isn't talented enough to make a run at the Liguilla. In interviews this summer, Chelis has repeatedly stated that the goal for his team is somewhere in the range of 23 to 24 points. This would lift them above any danger of relegation, but most likely outside of a playoff spot. Of course, a mid-table finish would be a huge improvement for a team that finished with totals of 17 and 15 points the last two seasons.
Any leap out of the relegation danger zone for Estudiantes will have to start with defense. Last season the team's defensive play was abysmal -- Tecos finished with 34 goals conceded, the second-highest total in the league. To help lead a turnaround on the backline, club management brought in veteran defender Dulio Davino from Monterrey during the offseason. Davino's leadership, and many years of experience, should produce some improvements.
At the other end of the field, Tecos welcome Herculez Gomez to the squad, reuniting the American striker with his old manager Chelis. The last time Gomez took the field under Chelis he was wearing a Puebla jersey, and wrapping up a share of the league scoring title. In the year since, Gomez lost his way a bit on a Pachuca squad under a revolving door of different managers. Now back under a familiar guide, Gomez has a great chance to regain his scoring touch.
Other new faces of note for Estudiantes include Argentinian midfielder Hugo Colace, who last played in England with Barnsley. And seemingly in a bid to become the oldest team in the Mexican Primera, Tecos also bring on veterans Braulio Luna and Rodrigo "Pony" Ruiz (combined age of the two players: 75). If age and experience were a legitimate indicator of success, Tecos might be a championship contender.
While last season was mostly a disappointing one, Chelis did prove that he has the ability to motivate his team in dire circumstances. If nothing else, this team has heart. A signature moment last season was a 4-4 road result against Toluca, when Tecos came back from four goals down at halftime to earn the draw in a hostile environment. The team also continued to show improvements over the course of the season. After six losses in their first eight matches, Tecos didn't throw in the towel. Instead, the team regrouped to finish with only two losses over the final nine games of the season. This is exactly the type of heart and resolve that Chelis hopes to rely on to bring improvements out of every player on the squad this season.
Herculez Gomez -- The same personnel move that brought Gomez to Estudiantes, also sent Mauro Cejas to Pachuca. Cejas was the top scorer for Tecos last season with seven goals, and in his absence someone new must fill the void. That man has to be Herculez Gomez. While Gomez only scored four goals last season, all four came over the final five games. On the verge of getting his scoring touch back, a reunion with Chelis could be all that’s needed to recreate the magic of that Bicentenario golden boot season.
Potential Breakout Player
Taufic Guarch -- The talented 20-year-old Tecos striker started just once last season, but did make appearances in eight matches. Guarch’s talent was officially recognized this summer by his selection to Mexico’s U-20 national team. While he will miss the first few weeks of the season due to the U-20 World Cup in Colombia, Guarch will gain some invaluable international experience. Look for Guarch’s role in the Tecos attacking scheme to increase following his return.
Bottom third of league table -- The ceiling for this team is mid-table. As Chelis has pointed out, a finish at 24 points would be a definite accomplishment. It's much more likely that Estudiantes finish as one of the bottom six teams. Last season they were 15th out of 18 teams, and even with some improvements, they still are safe bets to fall into that bottom third of the table. Tecos may have plenty of experience on the roster, but realistically the squad just doesn't have the horses to run with the top half of the league.
This is the fourth in our series of Mexican Primera team previews. Check out the earlier previews of Club Tijuana Xolos, Queretaro FC, and Jaguares de Chiapas.