The Apertura 2017 had many unprecedented events but none bigger than the defending champions teetering near the bottom of the table all season and finishing in 13th place. Nobody expected Chivas to do so poorly, but at the same time, it wasn’t particularly surprising due to the amount of injuries the roster suffered in the beginning of the season. Now this isn’t to say all of Chivas’ misfortunes were all due to the injuries but they certainly played a big role in the team’s lackluster title defense. Heading into the Clausura 2018, Matias Almeyda and El Rebaño have a lot to prove to show that what happened in the second half of 2017 was an anomaly.
But it wasn’t all bad in 2017. Most people will look at results and the league table to make their assessment of the team, yet that isn’t a true measure of what occurred on the field. Even with the amount of injuries, the team stayed true to the Matias Almeyda offensive style of play. They dominated possession, attack and shots on target in most games, and while that doesn’t matter if you don’t win, it does show that tactically the team was doing their part. With the roster finally back to health, the Clausura 2018 does renew hope for what the team can do and how they can compete in the upcoming season.
Of course, when it finally seemed like Chivas would have a full roster heading into the Clausura, controversy showed its face because it wouldn’t be a Chivas offseason without some controversy. Early in December, it was revealed that the club had failed to extend Oswaldo Alanis’s contract and the current negotiations were going nowhere, with Chivas offering a six-month extension and Alanis wanting a three-year extension. Where things really got rocky was when the player, who was still under contract, was sent to club’s second tier affiliate for no particular reason other than that the contract negotiations had stalled. The Players Union got involved and Jorge Vergara, Jose Luis Higuera and Almeyda all had to make public statements regarding the situation. Alanis was finally allowed to return to the first team, but Almeyda stated earlier this week that he would not be playing this season. At the end, a situation that could have been handled in a much more professional way ended up becoming a messy media circus and it was something the club could have done with out.
Once the Apertura ’17 season ended it was clear that the team needed to add some depth to the roster, most notably at center back and at striker. The team’s best defender Jair Pereira, spent most of the year injured, Salcido is in his last few days of soccer and the Alanis drama adds to an already depleted core of center backs. Up top, Zaldivar was not able to cut it in the absence of Alan Pulido. Yes, the injuries played a key aspect in the team’s lack of goal scoring, but Zaldivar was at many times invisible on the field.
And so, knowing this, the club went ahead and sent Gallito Vasquez to Santos and Carlos Fierro to Cruz Azul. Now, nobody is going to miss Carlos Fierro. In fact for the most part, when he played he handicapped the team, but Gallito was still a national team caliber player and one of the few natural Mexican defensive midfielders. If Michael Perez doesn’t live to what is expected of him, Gallito’s departure could be a costly one.
As far as additions are concerned, the team did nothing to address their deficiencies on defense, but they did bring in some young talent in midfield and at striker. I’m sure Almeyda is thinking “who needs defense when the other team can’t take the ball away from us” and hey Almeyda knows best. The two players that were brought in were Gael Sandoval, a versatile midfielder who can also play on the wing, and Ronaldo Cisneros a promising young striker who could bring the help up top Chivas has been lacking.
It was clear that after the Apertura ’17 season, if Chivas was going to compete with the Monterreys and Tigres of the league moving forward, the club would have to invest. Whether or not the team made correct investment will remain to be seen but at least the club’s front office has made a partial effort to help with the bounce back.
Alan Pulido – Nobody was missed more last season than Alan, his absence resonated on the pitch. His return this season is key to the team’s success and a good season could see him making a trip to Russia with El Tri.
Eduardo “We are not supposed to call him “La Chofis”, but we probably still will” Lopez – Chofis, took no days off during the winter break and trained all off season in preparation for the new tournament. With a full roster back, Chofis will be forced to demonstrate he is not just a hyped-up wonder kid and will need to cement himself into a starting line-up that is littered with talent at his position.
Jair Periera – The 31-year-old defender is the stalwart of the Chivas Defense. His health this season will be key to the club finding success defensively. If he happens to go down at any point, things could go left for a team with no other suitable replacements.
For a club like Chivas, every season is championship or bust. This season, though, could be the last chance for a while. The club and Almeyda could part ways this summer and the Argentine will be hard to replace. That said, I think this team can definitely finish in the top four and make a deep run in the Liguilla. If they manage to stay healthy, we could even see Chivas lift up number 13.
Myself and the rest of the Chivas Del Norte crew put together our season preview podcast for the Clausura’18 Chivas season, listen below.