These are troubling times for Tijuana fans.
Even before Ricardo La Volpe was fired at Club America, the rumors were swirling that Miguel Herrera would leave Club Tijuana behind for another shot in Mexico City. On one hand it’s hard to not blame Herrera for wanting to go back to arguably the biggest club in North America - one he left only to manage El Tri.
On the other hand though, it stings to see the year and a half’s worth of work he’s done simply walk away at the first opportunity. The work Herrera has done in that year and a half has been nothing short of phenomenal. When he took the reins in November of 2015, Tijuana had finished one point over last place Sinaloa and 19 behind the superlider Pumas. They ended the 2015 Apertura thirteenth on the relegation table, and could have been in real trouble without Herrera’s guidance.
Herrera came in and turned the team around. He jettisoned aging players like Alfredo Moreno and Juan Arango as well as players that didn’t fit the system he wanted to play like Diego de Buen and Felipe Flores. He returned Greg Garza from being on loan and purchased Juninho from the LA Galaxy as well as picking up Juan Carlos “Topo” Valenzuela on loan from Atlas. The team improved immediately, staying in playoff contention until the last couple of weeks in the 2016 Clausura and finishing 14th overall. Then came the 2016-17 season where the club was the superlider for both Apertura and Clausura and currently sits a relatively comfortable ninth in the relegation table.
But if Herrera leaves, the dominoes could start to fall.
If the rumors are to be believed, Guido Rodriguez (who got his first Argentina National Team call up under Herrera’s tutelage) would follow Herrera to America (if Inter or Lazio in Serie A don’t buy him first). Damian Perez is also rumored to be linked to Club America. Aviles Hurtado is linked to Monterrey, and Milton Caraglio is linked to Atlas. Yes, these are all rumors. Yes, it’s natural to expect roster churn - especially when you have a year like Xolos just did. But facing the loss of four critical players is a huge obstacle for any club.
Herrera is the linchpin of this. If he doesn’t go, are guys eager to jump ship? Rodriguez having Italian suitors makes sense as guys who play for Argentina get noticed. Hurtado as well with the season he just had. But the others? Is America interested in Perez without Piojo?
Xolos will still have some really good players. Paul Arriola, Joe Corona, Gibran Lajud, and Nacho Malcorra all saw significant minutes for Xolos. Michael Orozco and Topo Valenzuela will return from injury. Henry Martin, Matias Pisano, and Juan Martin Lucero all played important roles, and young Hiram Munoz and Carlos Vargas both played well when given opportunities. The caveat though at least for Martin, Pisano, Lucero, Munoz, and Vargas is they were able to flourish under Herrera in his system.
Will another coach however be able to elicit the same level of performance, or will these players be forced to try to make the best of a system they’re not suited to play with a coach who might not be able to get good performances out of them? Even if a new coach comes in and is competent and can get the most out of players like these, it may be a couple of seasons before Tijuana are the force they are now. In a league that sees managers largely as a dispensable commodity, would fans have the patience to stick by someone through lean times?
I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.