The phrase 'defense wins championships' is about as overused as any sports cliché. While there is of course some truth to the old axiom, Jaguares Chiapas represent its antithesis. In each of the previous two seasons, Chiapas qualified for the Liguilla only to be bounced in the first round by Santos. They put up impressive performances in both appearances, finding cracks in the Santos defense and netting a number of goals. Problem was, they always managed to concede more.
Chiapas's start to last season was a bit rocky, with the team only managing three points through their first five matches. The high octane offense had gone cold. Things eventually turned around for the team in midseason as the goals began to appear. Jaguares were able to secure points in each of their final eight matches and sneak in to the final Liguilla spot. Much of this offensive firepower came from one man, Jackson Martinez.
Jackson Martinez made the move to Europe this summer and will be lighting up the Portuguese league with Porto. There aren't many teams that can handle the loss of a player the caliber of Martinez and not miss a beat. Chiapas may just be that team. Strong goals scorers Franco Arizala and Luis Gabriel Rey remain with the club and are coming off a solid Clausura campaign. It seems that this was not enough for the management of Jaguares, though, as they felt a legitimate replacement for Martinez was needed. Thus, they just signed a player from Colombia named John Cordoba that fits the Martinez-mold. Cordoba is nicknamed the 'Colombian Drogba'. One way or another, there will be goals in Chiapas.
Unfortunately for Jaguares, the goals won't only be pouring into the opposing net. This team has either an inability or lack of desire to hold possession. Outside of Edgar Andrade, they're lacking a defensive presence in the midfield. The loss of Jorge Hernandez to Pachuca is not going to help with this. The backline is somewhere in between poor and porous, and the signings this summer don't look like they are going to have a big impact in this area. To compound this problem, Chiapas's goalkeeper, Edgar Hernandez, is one of the weakest keepers in Liga MX.
Jose Guadalupe Cruz's attack-minded strategies will reward fans of Jaguares with goals, but are likely to keep the team's goal differential close to zero. With their opening schedule of Tigres at home, at the Azteca for America, and then to Monterrey to face the Rayados, they will be seriously tested early. Chiapas are going to need to replicate the magic of their late season Clausura run if they hope to again qualify for the Liguilla.
Shoes to Fill
Jackson Martinez -- Martinez is a special player. He was a constant threat to tear defenses apart and thus had their permanent attention. It remains to be seen how the team's other attackers will be affected by his absence. Chiapas may just need John Cordoba to be more Drogba than just the 'Colombian Drogba'.
Lingering Question Mark
The Defense -- At some point, Jaguares are going to need to bolster their defense and goalkeeper to contend for something beyond just qualifying for the Liguilla.
Mark Your Calendars
Week 4 vs. Atlante -- After their first three killer fixtures, week 4 is going to be a borderline must-win for Jaguares.
Last One Out of Liguilla -- Many of the other 'on the cusp' teams have made improvements to their rosters this offseason. I see Chiapas being similar to what they were last season, but that not being quite enough this time around.
This is the seventh 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, and Atlante.