Liga MX's Apertura 2016 is finally upon us, and no team in the league will enter the season with as much speculation and conjecture as Las Chivas Rayadas de Guadalajara. With arrival of Matias Almeyda, Mexico's most popular team had a surprising turn around in the first half of the year. He got things started by winning the Copa MX in Apertura 2015. Then in the Clausura 2016, we saw them go from the relegation zone to finishing 5th in the table, returning to the Liguilla before losing to their bitter rival, Club America, in the quarterfinals. While they did not reach the objective, which is always the title for a team like Chivas, the season ended better than anyone had expected and left a fan base desperate for trophies with an optimism of what the future might bring. Almeyda managed to right the ship—not only did he get the team to start winning again, but they were playing aggressive, attractive soccer and doing so with lots of youngsters.
Once the Clausura 2016 finished for Chivas, the objective was clear for Almeyda and the front office: build on the momentum from last season, keep the core of the team together, and bring in some talent at defensive mid and striker to reinforce an already solid squad.
The offseason didn't just bring roster moves, it brought changes elsewhere in the team. Chivas decided not to renew their TV deal in Mexico with Televisa, opting to go with their own online version of the YES Network, Chivas TV. For the first time in Mexico, there will be a channel solely dedicated to Chivas which will stream all their home games online. The TV deal wasn't the only noise they made. Halfway through the summer, the front office announced that after 5 years, they would be cancelling their contract with uniform provider Adidas and signed a new deal with Puma.
As if dropping Televisa and Adidas wasn't enough news, the team also endured a text messaging scandal over player bonuses, backlash from fans and the media over the exit of past-his-prime, all-time Chivas goal scorer, Omar Bravo, to an NASL team, and racially charged comments from team President Jose Luis Higuera to a member of the Mexican media.
Through it all, Almeyda's objectives were never lost, and the team managed to put together a stronger, deeper squad than what we saw last season. They even started the preseason off on the right foot by winning the second trophy in the Almeyda Era with the defeat of Veracruz in the SuperCopa MX and gaining a ticket to a qualifying playoff for Copa Libertadores. With the additions made to the roster, heading into the Apertura 2016, the optimism for what the team can do and how far they can go is sky high even considering they will be without four players (C. Salcedo Jr, M. Perez, M. Bueno & C.Cisneros) who were called to Mexico's U-23 for the Rio Olympics.
Transfers - Notable Players
FW - Omar Bravo
DF - Raul "Dedos" Lopez
MD - Jose Juan "Gallito" Vasquez
MD - Nestor Calderon
FW - Marco Bueno
FW - Alex Zendejas
GK - Rodolfo Cota
Rodolfo Cota - One of the smartest moves the Chivas' front office did this offseason was extending Cota's Loan offer from Pachuca for one more year. Since taking over at goalkeeper, the 29yr old has been lights out, giving up only 16 goals in the Clausura 2016 which was tied for the lowest. Although he was snubbed by JCO for Copa America, he is arguably one of the top goalkeepers currently in Mexico, and having him in net is crucial for Chivas' success.
Orbelin Pineda - Unquestionably the best player on the team which is why Chivas refused to give him up to the Olympic team. A true box-to-box midfielder who cannot only come back, defend, and recover, but on offense he can distribute and take on players one on one leaving defenders in his path. The 20 year old is poised for a big season and will be a fundamental piece to Chivas' championship run.
Eduardo "La Chofis" Lopez - Mexico's answer to Leo Messi (ok maybe I'm embellishing a bit-maybe I'm not), but there is no doubt that this kid has a lot of talent and can do things the average Mexican player cannot. Last season, we all witnessed (sorry Lebron) his ability and talent which includes leaving defenders on the floor behind him, great vision when making passes, and the ability to finish plays. Almeyda is treating Chivas' new number 10 correctly by having him come off the bench to provide a spark in the second half of games, but I wouldn't be surprised if by the end of the season, he is the starter. With Marco Bueno being at the Olympics and Zaldivar being the only striker, look for Almeyda to play Chofis in a false nine role. #ChofisWatch will be in full effect all season.
"Hay que ser realistas." Let's be realistic. - My Father.
Realistically speaking this team has the talent, depth, and playing style to make a deep run in La Liguilla. I expect them to finish among the top 4 in the league and reach the semifinals of La Liguilla. For a team like Chivas, every season is championship or bust, and this season is no different except that the pieces are finally in place for that championship run the fan base has been waiting for.
Below is a Chivas Season Preview Edition of TCK Podcast. Let us know in the comments how you think Chivas will do this season. Is another trophy in their future?