Tuzos seek to put Apertura 2023 behind them; Monterrey’s roster fluidity

Unable to overcome departures and injuries, Pachuca failed to make the playoffs last season

Israel Luna (left) was expected to team up with Erick Sánchez (right) in the middle of the Pachuca line-up last season. Then Luna tore up his knee in July. The 21-year-old midfielder is expected back this season.
Israel Luna (left) was expected to team up with Erick Sánchez (right) in the middle of the Pachuca line-up last season. Then Luna tore up his knee in July. The 21-year-old midfielder is expected back this season. / Hector Vivas/GettyImages
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Coach Almada hopes Pachuca youth learn from tough lessons

Just one season removed from hoisting the club’s 7th Liga MX trophy, the Tuzos of Pachuca were expected to battle for a playoff spot during the Apertura 2023.

Instead, “los Hidalguenses” started slow and staggered down the stretch, just missing out of the final wildcard berth on goal differential.

Not for no reason, Pachuca has earned the reputation of the “cantera de México” – producing and developing young stars.

Last season was going to be no different, with coach Guillermo Almada expected to mix-and-match academy players with veteran holdovers from the Apertura 2022 championship squad.

Early in the Apertura 2023, Almada had handed out four debuts – Elias Montiel (17), Miguel Rodríguez (20), Owen González (20) and Jorge Berlanga (20) – and in the Matchday 6 contest against Atlético de San Luis, the Tuzos started six academy players, including Rodríguez (20), Montiel (17), José Castillo (21) and Ilian Hernández (23). 

But Pachuca’s grand plan fell apart thanks to injuries, insurrection and talent loss.

Before the season, the Tuzos had sold off right fullback Kevin Álvarez (América) and left fullback Mauricio Isaias (Toluca), while midfield stud Luis Chávez fought for permission to seek a move to Europe and was granted leave. 

Midfielder Paulino de la Fuente was loaned out to Spain’s Real Oviedo and stalwart defender Oscar Murillo was released. Then star-in-the-making Israel Luna tore up his knee just a quarter-hour into the team’s Matchday 2 game vs León.

Great things were expected of the 21-year-old Luna – a key sub throughout the Tuzos' championship-winning season in 2022 – as he was expected to meld with Team Mexico stars Chávez and Erick Sánchez to create the best midfield trident in Liga MX. But suddenly, Sánchez was alone in midfield and at times overwhelmed as he sought to cover up for the many youthful errors occurring all across the pitch.

In addition, portly playmaker Javier “La Chofis” López suffered a training camp injury that caused him to miss the first three games and he faced season-long fitness issues that limited him to 30-minute appearances.

Then captain Óscar Ustari quit the club in a fit of pique after Almada named Carlos Moreno starting goalie for a Leagues Cup match in August.

Just like that, the 25-year-old Moreno was the No. 1 goalkeeper. Fortunately, the Pachuca academy product softened the blow of Ustari’s departure by playing well, demonstrating that he deserves a shot at the starting spot again this season.

Even though the Tuzos came up short, Almada deserves credit. The ultras-demanding coach did not alter his tactics or his concepts (pressure and pace) to accommodate the youngsters. Instead, he coached them up and gave them opportunities to learn.

There were growing pains to be sure, and the callow roster made mistakes but the team will likely benefit in the long run, perhaps even as early as this season if Luna makes a full recovery from his knee surgery. 

Are Monterrey's transfer plans falling apart?

Last week, headlines across the Mexican soccer media landscape blared news of a blockbuster move by Liga MX Golden Boot winner Harold Preciado.

The 29-year-old striker had been sold to Monterrey for more than 10 million dollars. Or so the reports declared.

Today, Rayados coach Fernando Ortiz told reporters that Preciado was not going to join “La Pandilla” after all.

Monterrey’s roster remains in flux and the team that finished No. 2 in the regular season before collapsing in the quarterfinals to No. 7 seed Atlético de San Luis remains active in the transfer market.

While all-time leading franchise goal-scorer Rogelio Funes Mori seems destined for a ticket to Brazil and playmaker Alfonso González is on the trade block, the deep-pocketed Rayados are not panicking.

Ortiz claimed on Thursday that FC Cincinnati striker Brandon Vázquez was finalizing details to join Monterrey and the Northern Giants were still making inquiries about two Ortiz favorites – midfielder Richard Sánchez and winger Jonathan Rodríguez. Both players starred for “Tano” at América. The Rayados have also expressed interest in another Aguilas stud, 21-year-old Román Martínez.

Next. Necaxa looking to energize locker room. Necaxa looking to energize locker room. dark

Still and all, it’s best not to write headlines until the contract has been signed and the player has passed his physical. We’ll try to follow that advice from here on out.