Liga MX: ‘El Flaco’ Tena and the state of the Chivas at the break

Luis Fernando Tena had the Chivas poised to end a five-season playoff drought when the Clausura 2020 was suspended. (Photo by Refugio Ruiz/Getty Images)
Luis Fernando Tena had the Chivas poised to end a five-season playoff drought when the Clausura 2020 was suspended. (Photo by Refugio Ruiz/Getty Images) /
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Chivas Tena
J.J. Macías returned from injury to score in three straight games, helping the Chivas end a five-game winless streak with a three-game winning streak. (Photo by Alfredo Moya/Jam Media/Getty Images) /

Luis Fernando Tena and the Chivas appeared destined to end the club’s worst-ever playoff drought.

The forced break in the Clausura 2020 came at a particularly bad time for several clubs. Table-topping Cruz Azul is on a 9-game unbeaten streak in all competitions and León had rediscovered its sparkling form of recent seasons.

However, Chivas fans have a right to be upset about the interruption as “El Rebaño Sagrado” had completely turned things around after stumbling out of the gate. Guadalajara appeared poised to return to the playoffs for the first time in six seasons when the Clausura was suspended, overcoming its 1-3-2 start.

Die-hard fans and over-eager pundits predicted the Chivas would challenge for the Clausura 2020 title after new general manager Ricardo Peláez shelled out millions to reshape the roster over the winter break.

Instead, the Chivas faithful got doused with buckets of cold water. After a 2-0 home over FC Juárez in the season opener, Guadalajara’s star-studded roster fell flat on its face. Three straight draws were followed by a 3-0 rout by the Tigres and a 2-1 home loss to Cruz Azul.

Suddenly, coach Luis Fernando Tena was at risk of losing his job. Chivas fans had not embraced “El Flaco” after he took over for Tomás Boy last September even though he guided the “Goats” to a 4-2-2 record to close the Apertura 2019. Many hoped Peláez would bring in a hot new coach, or better yet, re-hire the revered Matías Almeyda who led the Chivas to the Clausura 2017 championship.

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But team president Amaury Vergara (he took ownership of the club in November after the death of his father, Jorge Vergara) decided to stand pat and give “El Flaco” a full season to prove his worth. By mid-February, that decision was being questioned and Tena was facing a win-or-be-fired game against the Xolos in Tijuana.

The situation appeared dire. Much had been expected from the expensive acquisitions and they had not delivered. Two of them – left back Cristian Calderón and winger Uriel Antuna – had been suspended for off-the-field transgressions, and three others – defender Alexis Peña, midfielder Jesús Angulo and right back José Madueña – had contributed little to nothing on the pitch.

To make matters worse, striker J.J. Macías (the club’s top transfer prize) had missed nearly a month after scoring in the home opener. The lanky forward returned to the starting line-up in Tijuana with the team desperate to halt the five-game winless streak.

Before “El Flaco” could even really worry that this could be his last game managing Mexico’s most popular team, Macías had scored. Just 3 minutes into the match at Estadio Caliente, Antuna found space down the right flank before sending a perfectly weighted cross to the far post where Macías slotted home.

The Chivas held on for the 1-0 win (with the help of a questionable red card against Tijuana’s Mauro Lainez), saving Tena’s job and starting a 3-game win streak that was stunted by a 1-1 draw against Monterrey in the final game before the Liga MX suspended the season.