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An Underdog Story: Oribe Peralta

After 7 forgettable career years, he rose to fearlessly lead Mexico to a Gold Medal and a World Cup

Olympics Day 15 - Men’s Football Final - Brazil v Mexico Photo by Joern Pollex - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images

Born in the city of Torreón, Coahuila in 1984, Oribe Peralta has grown to become one of the most famous, loved, and best players to ever put on a green Mexican National Team jersey, not to mention Santos Laguna and America jersey. He has had a long and mightily successful career, and now at the age of 36, appears to be closing out his career as part of the most popular team in Mexico: Chivas. But what would make this story come to a great conclusion would be for it to end where his amazing success began: Santos Laguna.

He officially made his debut in Mexico at the age of 19, during the Clausura 2003 with Morelia, where he only played in 2 games, totaling 19 minutes. He went on to play the following year for Leon in Primera División “A”, where he had a couple of inconsistent seasons, scoring just 8 regular season goals in that year. His struggles continued, as he joined Rayados for the start of the Apertura 2004, where he played in nearly every game that season and the following, but was unable to establish himself. He started some games and would come on as a sub in others. The Apertura 2005 and Clausura 2006 were worse for “Cepillo”, as he traded minutes between the senior team and the youth team in Second Division.

Peralta finally joined his home team Santos by the Apertura 2006 and played there for the next two and a half years. His minutes continued to decline and was eventually sent down to the Second Division youth team as he could not find his true identity on the pitch and showed little skill, despite being part of the Clausura 2008 champion squad. After being unable to produce for Santos, he was sent out on a year-long loan to Jaguares de Chiapas for the Clausura 2009 season. He finally broke out and was able to take hold of the starting striker position. He ended up playing 33 regular season matches between those two seasons, and scored a total of 12 regular season goals.

His loan ended and he was called back to Santos for the Bicentenario 2010, what would mark the beginning of his career success story. It’s not every day you see such inconsistent numbers and play for the first seven years of a player’s career. He didn’t become the immediate starter that season but showed glimpses of what was to come. He scored his first hattrick during the second leg of the semifinal vs. Morelia and was easily the best player on the pitch in his team’s Final loss vs. Toluca. He took a backseat to Christian Benitez the following season and saw a decline in minutes once again, but Santos had already recognized his disruptive capability. Proof of this was him regaining his Starting XI status the next season.

But it went far beyond the minutes, goals, and assists Peralta began to achieve. It was the confidence he displayed that was so notorious. Every time he got the ball, you felt danger from a goal-seeking predator. He had the quickness to dribble a defender. He could get an incredibly precise first touch shot off in the blink of an eye. “Cepillo” became a passing threat as well. He began to display a technique with the ball that had not been seen from him a year or two before. It was an incredible transformation which was confirmed during the summer of 2011, when he got his first real shot with the Mexican NT in the Copa América played in Argentina.

Now as a fully established everyday starter, he scored 10 goals for the Apertura 2011 campaign, in which Santos would ultimately succumb to Tigres in the Final. But he was right back at it for the Clausura 2012, where he scored nine more goals (four of them in one game), and was finally able to bring the title home for Santos, defeating the other “regio” team. He played an enormous part in the team’s success, and this season marked his “graduation,” so to speak, as he finally showed he had matured and could handle big moments. With two historic and gutty goals vs. Tigres in the second leg of the semifinal in the final five minutes, he led his team to the Final where they would take down Rayados. Peralta scored a total of six goals during those playoffs.

Netherlands v Mexico: Round of 16 - 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Photo by Lars Baron - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images

He took that momentum into the 2012 Olympic Games, where he proved ready even on an International level. He scored both goals vs. Brazil in the match that gave Mexico its first Gold Medal in Nation history for the sport of soccer in Olympic Games. After two more years of keeping his team relevant by reaching the semis 3 out of 4 seasons and scoring a handful of goals in each of them, Peralta was sold to Club America for a total of $10 million dollars at the start of the Apertura 2014.

He was called upon for the final four games of that sad World Qualifier in 2013 where he was the only shining light, scoring 3 goals in those final four matches where Mexico was lucky enough to avoid elimination from World Cup contention. If that wasn’t enough, during the World Cup playoff vs. New Zealand, he scored five of Mexico’s nine goals in the home-and-home series to put Mexico through to the 2014 World Cup. “Cepillo” would go on to score the game’s only goal vs Cameroon in Mexico’s debut in the WC and would lead as the starting striker for the National Team the rest of the way.

Oribe continued to produce in his new role with Club America. He played virtually every minute of the regular season, netting eight goals and leading America to the title vs. Tigres, where he would score in the defining title game. After a complicated Clausura 2015, the 2015-16 campaign proved to be much more consistent for Peralta. He totaled 15 regular season goals combined in those two seasons and played in almost every match. Not to mention his Club World Cup debut and a goal to go along with it. “Cepillo” kept the starting job in America for the 2016-17 football year, only missing 5 regular season games and scoring 12 goals during those two seasons. He led his team to the Final of the Apertura 2016 vs. Tigres which they ultimately let slip from their hands. The 2017-18 football year provided equal playing time, except that a slight decline in production began to occur. Peralta scored only nine goals for those two seasons, on average about half of what he was used to scoring in a full football year, along with the fact that America didn’t reach the Final in either season.

Cruz Azul v America - Apertura 2014 Liga MX

By the time the Apertura 2018 rolled around, a clearly declining Peralta continued to lead the America attack, but by the end was playing less minutes as a sub, despite America winning the championship vs. Cruz Azul. The Clausura 2019 season was his final one with America, as he only played in three regular season games and came off the bench in all their four playoff matches, where he didn’t log more than 30 minutes in any of them.

This past June at the age of 35, Oribe Peralta was transferred to Chivas, a move many criticized by claiming he had nothing left in the tank and should not have been signed by the Jaliscienses. “Cepillo” only played one complete game in the Apertura 2019 and didn’t score a single goal. So far in the Clausura 2020, he had only played in two games, one in which he finally scored his first league goal as a Chiva.

One of the most unexpected stories you’ll ever hear about, without a doubt. After seven full years of being sent up and down through the different levels of organizations, never establishing himself, and not producing on the pitch having already turned 26 years of age, you rarely see a player turn it around the way Peralta did in his career. Not only did he gain sudden confidence in his game, but the way he handled himself, the way he scored goals, his technique and skill when he received the ball made him one of the most lethal strikers in the league, and undoubtedly the best striker on the National Team, at least for a while.

He was one of the most consistent strikers in Liga MX from 2010-2017. It is uncommon to see those levels of consistency from a striker for that long. But above all, his game has remained the same during big moments. He answered the call every single time: Liga MX Finals, Gold Medal in the 2012 Olympics, 2014 WC Qualifiers and his 2014 WC goal vs. Cameroon to give Mexico the win, all his big goals with Santos and America; you name it. He was ready when his name was called and became the face and savior during a dark Mexican National Team period when nobody expected it. As his retirement nears, it’s only fair we pay tribute to the true underdog story of Oribe Peralta.