Liga MX: 4 early candidates for Coach of the Year

Robert Siboldi has Cruz Azul at the top of the standings, finally getting the Cementeros to buy into his aggressive, attacking style of football. (Photo by PEDRO PARDO/AFP via Getty Images)
Robert Siboldi has Cruz Azul at the top of the standings, finally getting the Cementeros to buy into his aggressive, attacking style of football. (Photo by PEDRO PARDO/AFP via Getty Images) /
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Liga MX coaches
Ignacio Ambriz has transformed León into a very entertaining team that plays a flowing style of football even though Ambriz had a reputation as a boring coach. The Esmeraldas have finished in the top two each of the past two seasons. (Photo by Cesar Gomez/Jam Media/Getty Images) /

Two successful coaches with variable strategies

León and Santos are second and third, respectively, behind Cruz Azul. Both clubs qualified for the playoffs last season as top seeds. Each team has a unique style that reflects their coach’s tactical preferences and each manager has proven quite successful in applying his particular strategy.

Nacho Ambriz, León: Two seasons ago, Ambriz guided the Esmeraldas to the top seed before falling short in the Final. Last season, La Fiera claimed the No. 2 seed only to be upset by Morelia in the first round.

This season, Ambriz has had to make do without top striker J.J. Macías (reclaimed by the Chivas), was forced to rest team MVP Ángel Mena due to fitness issues and has juggled his back line because of injuries.

Nacho’s León team starts with a well-ordered defense and constant movement with the ball. Everything runs through midfield quarterback Luis Montes who orchestrates the possession-obsessed club (56%). When operating at full-throttle, this club boasts the most-attractive style of play in Liga MX. Unfortunately, injuries on defense have hampered León’s free-flowing offense.

Last season, Ambriz moved Yairo Moreno from winger to left fullback and that added a new dimension to León’s transition offense. Montes constantly probes and distributes from the middle of the field while Mena and Jean Meneses wreak havoc from the wings.

Central defender Andrés Mosquera remains out with a knee injury and his patience and control is sorely missed. Linemate William Tesillo has been unable to forge a good partnership with replacements, especially since he was moved wide for a few games when Yairo Moreno was hurt. This lack of stability at the back has disrupted offensive rhythm.

Macías’ production has not been replaced, but León is still No. 2 in scoring (23 goals).

Guillermo Almada, Santos: Almada came to the Liga MX with a reputation as a coaching genius (you don’t get a nickname like “The Uruguayan Guardiola” for no reason). His tactics produced the league’s No. 1 seed last season, though Santos was shocked by eventual champion Monterrey in the first round of the playoffs.

Almada prefers a high-risk style with his defense playing a high line and midfielders pressing forward and double-teaming at every possibility. Fernando Gorriarán typifies this approach with his hustle and all-around game. The Uruguayan midfielder is a terror without the ball. He and youngster Ulises Rivas form one of the top midfield duos in Liga MX.

Goalie Jonathan Orozco is a perfect fit for Almada’s style as he is brilliant with the ball at his feet and his passing often jump-starts Santos counterattacks.

The Guerreros attack from all over, with fullbacks Gerardo Arteaga and José Carlos van Rankin constantly making overlapping runs. Forwards Brian Lozano and Julio Furch have been together for three seasons now and they have thrived under Almada, their rotating and weaving interplay a real threat to opposing defenses.

Weakness in central defense is Almada’s top concern. Brazilian Dória is top notch, but Hugo Rodríguez can be error-prone. Back-up Félix Torres is still green at 23 and is still learning Liga MX after moving from Ecuador last season. Mistakes and unnecessary fouls at the back slow down the fast pace Almada prefers.