When you think regular season opening night, coupled with a brand new head coach (Ambriz) who, oh by the way, has one of the most successful winning percentages over a two-year span in league history (topped of with a title no less), in a Monday night date between two of the most historic clubs in Liga MX, you expect to be in for quite a treat. Apart from this, the fact of how last season went for both of these teams; Pumas got in to the playoffs last minute and barely lost to Atlas in the semis, and Toluca were relevant again, finishing 6th overall and just 4 points outside of a top 4 spot.
Unfortunately, it was all but. Pumas dominated from the get-go. In just the 2nd minute of action, Sebastián Saucedo received a through ball on the left-hand side, just outside the box, and sent in a beauty of a cross to Diogo de Oliveira, who just missed the post by inches with his right-footed strike. The flurry of opportunities started from there. Toluca had no answer to Pumas’ endless approaches on goal. It’s a surprise the scoreless draw lasted as long as it did (30 minutes). But you knew it was a matter of time before the first goal arrived.
Despite Toluca winning the possession battle (54% to 46%), Pumas had 26 total shots (13 on goal) yesterday night, while Toluca only had 5. Not only that, but Ambriz’s squad were losing balls in their own third of the pitch, failed to guard their man in any way, and just looked sluggish and unmotivated the entire match. The five subs Ambriz used had no impact either. It was an all-around horrid showing from Toluca and one of their worst regular season openers in history.
With all of that being said, I do happen to agree with Nacho Ambriz’s post-game conference takes. They were overrun by Pumas and had no deal showing up last night. However, let’s not forget they were vastly affected by COVID last week. On Tuesday, the news broke regarding a good number of positive cases for the Mexiquense side. They were dealing with seven cases, which is what ultimately moved the match from Sunday noon to Monday night. The club never gave out the names of those cases. In the end, all players tested negative a few hours prior to yesterday’s match, making them available for Ambriz if he so chose.
In the words of Ambriz post-game: “We’ll see how our players return who couldn’t play tonight or who were only available to play 15, 20, 30 minutes.” So without making it an excuse, he did, which is fine because it’s true. Toluca were vastly affected by this last night, which is why the result was as surprising as it was. He also added: “We’re going to improve a lot.” And how could they not? Apart from the Sambueza loss, they added talented striker Camilo Sanvezzo and brought back boy wonder Leo Fernández, who had a superb 10-game stint with them just two years ago. Even talented MF Jordan Sierra joined Toluca this winter.
In other words, we’re looking at a stacked team talent-wise, who can (or should) only improve from last season’s performance. Their new head coach, who was the winningest Liga MX coach from 2019-2021, will look to adopt his versatile and joyous style of play and make this a fun team to watch. With those elements combined, this squad could and should be in the top 4 conversation come season’s end. Look for Toluca to revert this situation quickly and be a contender this season.