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Atlas turning a corner under Orlegi Sports

After being bought by Orlegi Sports in May, Atlas seems to be following much of the same path as Santos Laguna.

Grupo Orlegi President Alejandro Irarragorri and Atlas President Pedro Portilla announce the acquisition of Atlas FC by Orlegi Sports.
Grupo Orlegi President Alejandro Irarragorri (left) and Atlas President Pedro Portilla announce the acquisition of Atlas FC by Orlegi Sports.
Orlegi Sports press release

At the end of last season, Atlas sat 15th on the Tabla de Cociente (relegation table) and had come off of a year that saw them finish 17th in the 2018 Apertura and 13th in the Clausura. They hadn’t made the playoffs since the 2017 Apertura, when they were thrashed 6-2 on aggregate by Monterrey. The last time Atlas won a Liguilla series was the 2004 Apertura, when they beat archrivals Chivas 4-3 on aggregate.

Jaime Duran (I) de Atlas disputa el balo
Thirty tournaments have come and gone since Atlas’ last Liguilla series victory.
Photo credit should read VICTOR STRAFFON/AFP via Getty Images

During the 2019 offseason the club was sold by Grupo Salinas, the conglomerate that owns TV Azteca and Monarcas Morelia among other things, to Grupo Orlegi, the conglomerate that owns Santos Laguna and Tampico Madera among other things. Grupo Orlegi wasted no time in bringing in reinforcements for the team a week later.

“Atlas fans will always be desperate to win. But we didn’t expect a huge improvement in the first season with Orlegi,” said David Flores of Paradero Boys, a blog devoted to covering Atlas in English. “We are happy with the new owners. Seeing our president every single home game for both the boys and the girls, tells us that he’s really into it. He really loves the team and these colors.“

“They couldn’t do that much last transfer season. Azteca group left a bunch of debts and overpaid contracts which they need to get rid off before spending on a good team. But we are hopeful that they can work that out this off-season.”

This season Atlas has performed relatively well in the league, currently sitting in 12th place despite two dispiriting losses in their past two matches. Their six wins match their total from all of last season with two more games to go, and they’re still mathematically in contention for a Liguilla spot. Although it’s unlikely, it’s an improvement over the last few seasons.

Pumas UNAM v Atlas - Torneo Apertura 2019 Liga MX
It hasn’t been easy this season, but signs point to Atlas weathering the storm and thriving in Liga MX.
Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images

Atlas isn’t out of the woods yet though. Assuming Veracruz isn’t allowed to buy their way out of relegation again this season, Atlas will be in the lower portion of the Tabla de Cociente for the 2020-21 year, along with Juárez and their crosstown rivals Chivas.

“We’ve won that battle with a much worse team,” Flores said about the possibility of relegation after next season. “I don’t think it’s going to be a problem.”

Atlas does have several things going for them. They have a core of players that is solid and has tasted success this season. Leandro Cufré is also proving himself a competent manager despite it being Atlas being his first managerial job. Their Fuerzas Basicas and youth setup are good and should ensure the team produces first team players on their own rather than having to rely on the transfer market. The Femenil team has also shown themselves to be an asset, making the playoffs each of the last two seasons and looking poised to make it a third this season.

Pumas UNAM v Atlas - Torneo Apertura 2019 Liga MX
Leandro Cufré has kept Atlas in the Liguilla conversation in just his first season as a manager.
Photo by Mauricio Salas/Jam Media/Getty Images

They’ve also got the backing of Orlegi Sports. Orlegi has taken a club like Atlas and rehabbed them before. Santos was bought by Grupo Orlegi in 2013 and in the 11 seasons since they’ve only missed the playoffs four times and have added two stars to their jersey. They’ve been a stable ownership group, making smart business decisions as well as shrewd player moves. They’ve emphasized player development, using their youth academy to replenish the first team to lessen the reliance on the transfer market.

I asked Flores what he’d say to the decision makers with Atlas and Orlegi Sports. “‘Don’t take too long.’ We (have three or four) championship level players. Let’s not waste them and build around them,” he said. If their track record with Santos holds true, Flores and other Atlas fans may not have to wait too much longer to see their club tasting success.