Hot Stove League, Liga MX-style: The Big Four

The Chivas will take the field at Estadio Azteca under the leadership of interim coach Marcelo Michel Leaño. (Photo by Alfredo Moya/Jam Media/Getty Images)
The Chivas will take the field at Estadio Azteca under the leadership of interim coach Marcelo Michel Leaño. (Photo by Alfredo Moya/Jam Media/Getty Images) /
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Liga MX Hot Stove League Big 4
Raúl Gudiño captured the starting goalie job midway through the Guardianes 2020 and then put on a solid show in the playoffs. (Photo by Refugio Ruiz/Getty Images) /

Chivas mostly stand pat, set sight on Finals

Mexico’s most-loved team (so say Chivas fans) did not shuffle its roster very much in December as most of the club-house drama played out in November.

Fullback Alejandro Mayorga (Pumas) and midfielder César Huerta (Mazatlán FC) are back with “El Rebaño Sagrado” after their respective loan deals expired.

Mayorga will compete with Miguel Ponce at left fullback, thus freeing up “Chicote” Calderón to continue his transition to midfielder. Defensive lapses cost “Chicote” his starting spot last season, and coach Víctor Manuel Vucetich began using “Chicote” farther upfield. The experiment was a ringing success in the playoffs as “Chicote” virtually eliminated América in the playoffs single-handedly. All three of his goals were of the spectacular variety.

Huerta, 20, thrived as a forward in Mazatlán after coming up through Guadalajara’s system as a midfielder. He’ll get a chance to show off his new talents if the Chivas attack struggles again this season.

Cast aside were midfielders José Juan Vázquez, Dieter Villalpando and Eduardo “Chofis” López, as well as defender Alexis Peña. All four were suspended from the team in early November after violating team rules related to Covid-19, while Villalpando also faces sexual assault charges.

Since the Liga MX season ended, Vázquez was traded to Toluca and the other three were released outright. The Chivas tried desperately to trade “Chofis” before dumping him, but Liga MX clubs were unwilling to take a chance on the troubled playmaker.

“Chofis” – now 26 – became a huge fan favorite after a sensational debut season as a teenager, but since then has exhibited a lack of discipline. He was seen out partying on several occasions last year despite the Covid restrictions and he showed little commitment when training.

GM Ricardo Peláez reportedly offered Pachuca “Chofis” and cash in exchange for star midfielder Víctor Guzmán, but Tuzos management laughed in his face. Peláez then offered “Chicote” Calderón and “Chofis” for “El Pocho,” but still no dice. Peláez has been trying to get Guzmán since taking over as GM in December 2019. A trade was annulled in January after “El Pocho” was cited for a drugs violation and suspended for nine months.

Tijuana and León were the only Liga MX clubs to express any kind of interest in “Chofis,” but when told his wage rate, they backed away, especially since there is no guarantee that a change of scenery would produce a renewed commitment from the pudgy playmaker.

Universal Deportes reported that “Chofis” contacted his former coach, Matías Almeyda (now manager of San Jose Earthquakes in MLS), to see if he might have interest in picking up his contract. Almeyda said he was interested, looked into the finances and then read “Chofis” the riot act, telling him that if San Jose does trade for him, he will not tolerate any indiscipline.

With the Liga MX Finals as the stated goal, Vucetich will strive to get better production from striker J.J. Macías who disappointed after returning from a successful loan term at León. The 21-year-old has dreams of playing in Europe and sulked when a deal was not made over the summer. He’ll have to score if he hopes to go abroad this summer.

Winger Uriel Antuna grew exponentially last season, even making several All Liga MX squads. He will be expected to keep providing services to Macías along with the explosive Alexis Vega. The frisky Isaac “Conejo” Brizuela could find his playing time threatened by César Huerta, but coach Vucetich will have no shortage of options in attack.

At the back, goalie Raúl Gudiño’s valuation is rising and he is adequately sheltered by the central defense partnership of Hiram Mier and Gilberto Sepúlveda. Skipper Jesús Molina and Fernando Beltrán will handle midfield duties with aplomb.

After ending Guadalajara’s 3 ½ year playoff drought, Vucetich – aka King Midas – will try to get the Chivas back to the Finals. Chivas Nation expects nothing less.