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
Santos coach Guillermo Almada (left) and América manager Miguel Herrera are two of the most demonstrative coaches in Liga MX. Here they argue with each other as they walk off the field after each was shown a red card … for arguing with each other. (Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images) /

‘Piojo’ Herrera has rebuilt his reputation as a top manager

Miguel Herrera led América to the Liga MX title in 2013 before departing to take over the national team. After throwing a punch at a journalist in an airport confrontation in 2015, he was summarily fired.

The fiery coach accepted a job with Tijuana and led the Xolos to a No. 1 seed two seasons in a row before América prised him away for a second term with the Aguilas.

Despite many years of success at Monterrey, Atlante, América, El Tri and Tijuana, “El Piojo” was seen as more of a players’ coach (a master motivator) than a clever tactician. That has changed back in “El Nido.”

Herrera led the Aguilas to another title in December 2018 and earned the club its first Copa MX trophy in 45 years in April 2019.

Last season, América survived an injury-riddled season to make the playoffs and Herrera guided his team to the Final before coming up short against Monterrey. Despite the manpower shortage, “El Piojo” directed a hard-nosed defense that imposed its will on opponents, while relying on the counter and set pieces to win games.

This season, Herrera has had to re-invent the Aguilas after management sent midfield hardman Guido Rodríguez to Europe. The toughness on defense now comes from defenders Bruno Valdez and Emanuel Aguilera, but in midfield “El Piojo” has imposed an interchanging two-man line featuring Richard Sánchez, Fernando González and Santiago Cáseres.

With injuries robbing América of offensive threats Nico Castillo and Nicolás Benedetti, Herrera has given Sebastián Córdova freer rein to move in between lines up front. While striker Henry Martin has struggled to stay healthy, “El Piojo” has found success with youngster Federico Viñas at the point of attack.

During his first term with América, Herrera utilized a 5-3-2 formation, but this season he has been using a 4-2-4. This new formation allows for equilibrium between offense and defense, and a more varied attack with an emphasis on widening the field. Córdova and Leo Suárez interact with fullbacks Luis Fuentes and Paul Aguilar on the flanks. That frees up space inside for Martín and Viñas (or Gio dos Santos).

Discipline at the back – and spectacular play from goalie Memo Ochoa – makes América among the toughest Liga MX teams to score on and that has allowed Herrera time to wait for his offense to find itself while remaining in the hunt for the top seed.

Honorable Mention: Gabriel Caballero, FC Juárez

Caballero has the modest Bravos contending for a playoff spot by playing a disciplined, if conservative style. His squad plays extremely hard for him, regardless of the opposition or the score.

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This season, Juárez is playing with a bit more flair – its 20 goals are third-best in Liga MX – while showing greater tactical versatility. A few weeks earlier, Caballero might have gotten the nod as the second-best coach but the Bravos suffered second-half collapses in three straight matches. In all three games, Caballero erred by adapting a more conservative strategy instead of showing confidence in his players.