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Mexican Primera Previews, Apertura 2011, Team By Team: Club Atlas

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Between a slightly disappointing Clausura 2011 and a coaching change, Club Atlas have undergone a serious overhaul in the offseason, completely changing their team to better suit the liking of Ruben Omar Romano. Romano is one of the best foreign players to ever play in the Mexican Primera and he guided Santos Laguna to two finals in the last three tournaments, but he was shown the door in Torreon after giving some disapproving fans the finger. Their loss is Atlas's gain, and the team that calls themselves The Academy will have their sights set on a Liguilla place.

Of course, when big changes are made it means transfers out, not just transfers in and Atlas have let go of some of their key pieces from last season. Their talented young No. 10, Edgar Pacheco has been sold to Tigres for a solid transfer fee, while veteran defensive midfielder Gerardo Espinoza has been curiously loaned out to Jaguares de Chiapas, where he should aide Profe Cruz's quest to avoid the drop. Other big changes include the release of Carlo Costly, Alfredo Moreno's return to San Luis, and Darvin Chavez moving on to Monterrey.

Though those players were all big losses, Atlas has added a lot of reinforcements. Jonathan Lacerda will be a great addition from his old Santos team in defense, and he will help young star Nestor Vidrio and top goalkeeper Miguel Pinto make up a great defensive spine. Romano's teams are known for their attacking style, and with those three players holding things down in defense, he can afford to push numbers forward in order to make up for their lack of firepower up top. Their defense is not particularly deep, though, and an injury to either Lacerda or Vidrio could cripple them.

The departure of Espinoza is a decent blow to the depth in the center of midfield for Atlas, but they're still pretty strong in that area. Luis Robles is a very reliable defensive midfielder who can also play central defense in a pinch, and the same goes for 19-year-old rising star Alonso Zamora, who should get much more playing time this season than he did last season. Romano also brought in Fransisco Torres, his former Santos player. 20-year-old Saul Villalobos could also get a look.

At Santos, Romero played a very fluid 4-4-2 diamond where the two midfielders in the center of the diamond had responsibilities wide and in the middle, a role in which Fernando Arce shined in Santos's two final runs. Romano doesn't have players who are experienced in that kind of role in his team, so he will either have to make players who aren't used to the role fit or change up the formation. Lucas Ayala, Gaston Puerari, and Jahir Barraza could compete for time in those places, though Ayala can also play in the middle and both Puerari and Barraza can both play up top. The best candidate for the left midfield spot is Guillermo Rojas, who can also play left back.

The leader in the clubhouse for the attacking midfield spot is Jesus Meza, brought in as an answer to the departure of Edgar Pacheco. The Venezuelan league isn't nearly the highest standard of football in the Americas, but his goal scoring record for Zamora and call-ups to the Venezuelan national team suggest that he might be up to the task of filling Pacheco's shoes. Puerari, whose true position is anyone's guess, could also compete for time at this spot.

Up top, Atlas has just as much potential as they have question marks. Adding Honduran international Georgie Welcome, who was respectable if unspectacular in his short stint in France last year, could be a major coup. He's unproven, but his play in Honduras and his ability to hold his own in France suggests that he can score a few goals for Atlas. He will likely be first choice out of the gate. Mauricio Romero, Puerari, Barraza and Flavio Santos could all fight for time at the other striker spot. 

Key Player

Miguel Pinto - The former Universidad de Chile man established himself as one of the best goalkeepers in the Mexican Primera during the 2011 Clausura, and will continue to start in goal for Atlas. He's a star and can keep them in games they have no business being in.

Key Acquisition

Georgie Welcome - The Honduran striker gives Atlas the true No. 9 they have lacked for quite some time. Whether or not he can score goals regularly in the Mexican Primera remains to be seen, but signs point to him being a great pickup.

Prediction

Fringes of Liguilla - Atlas are probably not favorites for the top eight positions, but they will have a chance. Something like a ninth or tenth place finish seems likely.

This is the fifth in our series of Mexican Primera team previews. Check out the earlier previews of Club Tijuana XolosQueretaro FCJaguares de Chiapas, and Estudiantes Tecos.