Liga MX Transfer Talk: Grupo Pachuca boosts title odds

Young striker Roberto de la Rosa became Pachuca's biggest scoring threat by the end of the Guardianes 2021 season. (Photo by Mauricio Salas/Jam Media/Getty Images)
Young striker Roberto de la Rosa became Pachuca's biggest scoring threat by the end of the Guardianes 2021 season. (Photo by Mauricio Salas/Jam Media/Getty Images) /
Grupo Pachuca
When León captain Luis Montes was red-carded during the club’s 16th-round match vs Mazatlán FC, it effectively marked the end of the Esmeraldas’ title defense. (Photo by Sergio Mejia/Getty Images) /

Grupo Pachuca is comprised of two Liga MX teams – Pachuca and León – plus Liga Expansión MX club Zacatecas.

The well-run institution has become a model football organization, its two Liga MX clubs constantly in the hunt for trophies despite relatively modest payrolls.

León won the Guardianes 2020 championship and was Liga MX runner-up in the Clausura 2019 season. Pachuca, while reaching the semifinals last season and the quarterfinals the season before, has earned the reputation of churning out young stars.

Management at the two clubs seems intent on continuing the run of success as both have been active during the early weeks of the transfer market.

Pachuca bolsters its front line

The Tuzos stumbled out of the gate badly last season, opening the Guardianes 2021 with an 0-4-5 record. Coach Paulo Pezzolano was nearly shown the door before he managed to turn things around.

Pachuca finished the season on a 6-1-1 run, followed by an upset of No. 2 seed América in the quarterfinals. The Tuzos came up short against eventual champion Cruz Azul in the semifinals as the Cementeros exposed the club’s biggest weakness – scoring.

Only three of last season’s 12 playoff teams scored fewer goals than Pachuca during the regular season and the Tuzos came up empty in the two semifinal matches against Cruz Azul.

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Pezzolano juggled his front line throughout the season, but his aging forwards were not up to the task.

Felipe Pardo, 30, had 0 goals, 3 assists (he has returned to Toluca as his loan deal expired); Ismael Sosa, 34, had 3 goals and 2 assists; Mauro Quiroga, 31, had 2 goals (he was sold to Necaxa); Roberto Nurse, 37, had 1 goal.

The lone bright spot was in-house product Roberto de la Rosa. The 21-year-old earned a starting spot by season’s end and supplied 4 goals. He looked solid in the playoffs, scoring a brace against the Chivas in Pachuca’s 4-2 win in their wildcard match.

The Pachuca front office addressed this issue right out of the gate, acquiring Atlético de San Luis goleador Nicolás Ibáñez (his 10 goals were second only to Toluca’s Alexis Canelo who had 11).  The front office then dealt for Monterrey’s Avilés Hurtado. The 34-year-old Colombian started his Liga MX journey with Pachuca in 2013, enjoying success with Chiapas and Tijuana before moving to Monterrey where he helped the Rayados win the Apertura 2019 Liga MX trophy, two Copa MX titles and the 2019 Concacaf Champions League.

Also coming on board is Yairo Moreno, a gifted winger who contributed to León’s Guardianes 2020 championship as an attacking left fullback.

León rethinks its roster

The Esmeraldas’ title defense collapsed unceremoniously down the stretch. After a stuttering start to the Guardianes 2021, the club provided hints of the offensive juggernaut that helped “La Fiera” claim the Liga MX trophy last December.

Injuries were a prime culprit, depriving coach Nacho Ambriz of Fernando Navarro, Yairo Moreno and skipper Luis Montes for games at a time. The loss of the versatile Navarro was particularly damaging as he mastered the combo role created for him by Ambriz – a fullback that drifts into a “false 9” position when in attack.

León also demonstrated an unhealthy dependency on “Chapo” Montes, a drawback when the captain was unavailable. His absence due to injury led to a mid-season two-game losing streak that slowed their chase of a playoff position and his reckless retaliation to a foul on Matchday 16 led to a two-game suspension. Without their quarterback, the Esmeraldas were easy prey in the wildcard round, succumbing to a limited Toluca team.

The Esmeraldas’ makeover was inevitable once Ambriz announced he would not be signing a new contract. So far, the focus has been on offense, perhaps with an eye on lending support to Montes and reducing the club’s over-reliance on him.

Joining “La Fiera” is Puebla’s scoring ace Santiago Ormeño who finished last season as Liga MX’s third-leading scorer (9 goals). Ormeño will be joined by another ex-Camotero, Omar Fernández, a slippery playmaker who could take some pressure off Montes.

Also donning a green jersey next season will be Elías Hernández, fresh off winning the title with Cruz Azul, although as a substitute. The 33-year-old winger was a member of León’s back-to-back championship teams (Apertura 2013, Clausura 2014), so club officials hope he can help the Esmeraldas rediscover those glory days (Montes and Navarro are the only holdovers from those title-winning teams).

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The man calling the shots this season will be Ariel Holan. The 60-year-old Argentine coach comes to Liga MX from Santos, though he did not have much success with the Brazilian giants. Prior to that, Holan managed Chile’s Universidad Católica, posting a 23-14-10 record during the 2020-2021 season.