FOX Soccer Exclusive
Chivas show strength through chaos
The usual chaos and controversy engulfing CD Guadalajara has obscured the rarest of headlines for this strife-torn side: a modest revival on the field.
Once left for dead, Chivas now has life as the final weekend of the Apertura approaches. The same team that finished second in its CONCACAF Champions League group behind Guatemalan minnows Xelajú now sits seventh in Liga MX with one round to play. A victory over Copa Libertadores and top seed chasers Club Tijuana on Sunday would clinch a berth in the Liguilla for the second time in three years in rather unexpected fashion.
It is a rather remarkable turnaround for a club hindered by all sorts of off-the-field distractions and currently mired in the middle of an imbroglio caused by owner Jorge Vergara's unorthodox thoughts on the potential recruitment of US international striker Hérculez Gómez.
Instead of succumbing to the sideshows and the insistent calls for manager John van't Schip's departure earlier in the campaign, Chivas buckled down and produced the run of form required to enter the Liguilla picture.
Van't Schip relegated the poor start to the season to the rear view mirror and sidestepped calls for his resignation after the Xelajú debacle by accumulating results over the past few weeks. Despite a squad tattered by injuries, Chivas has lost just one of its past six matches – a stretch that includes a job-saving 3-1 away victory over Club América on Oct. 6 – to climb away from the lower half of the table and establish the necessary playoff credentials.
It should come as little surprise that the uptick in results corresponded to the return of Marco Fábian. The promising Mexico international midfielder recovered from a shoulder injury to return in time for the Súper Clásico victory over América. He immediately assumed much of the burden in the attacking third and sparked a side desperately in need of his services. Fábian has scored in each of his past three outings and has tallied in four of the five matches he has played since returning to the side.
Fábian's creativity and incisiveness adds a bit more thrust to a side lacking in attacking options past veteran poacher Rafael Márquez Lugo. The 31-year-old striker leads Chivas with six goals on the campaign despite suffering from a rash of injuries that have limited his availability. Those problems have not cleared despite the increasing importance of matches at hand. A left knee complaint places his availability for the match against Tijuana on Sunday in some doubt.
If Márquez Lugo isn't able to feature from the start against Tijuana, then the onus would fall squarely on Fábian – a mooted transfer target for several European sides during the summer – to fire his side into the Liguilla. The two men have combined to score ten of Chivas' 17 league goals this season with few others able to contribute much in the final third.
The paucity of goals presents a real problem for a side charged with entertaining its demanding supporters, but the solid defensive shape in van't Schip's preferred 4-2-3-1 setup offers some hope at the back. Jorge Enríquez continues to burnish his Mexico credentials with his performances in front of the back four, while fellow Mexico hopeful Miguel Ponce and longtime fixture Héctor Reynoso play important roles in an unheralded back four that has conceded just 15 times in 16 games.
Every one of those players must produce in order to ensure Guadalajara continues its season after this weekend. Little margin for error exists given the scrap for the final three Liguilla berths. A victory could see Chivas eclipse Morelia (currently one point ahead with a critical match against eighth-placed Santos Laguna on Friday) for sixth place. A draw or defeat would open the door for ninth-placed Chiapas (away to Pachuca on Saturday) and tenth-placed Monterrey (away to essentially qualified Cruz Azul on Saturday) to make up their current one-point deficit and secure one of the eight available berths with a victory. Even U.A.N.L. Tigres could still sneak into the postseason with a home victory over América and some help based on the strength of its goal difference.
It won't be easy for Chivas to snatch the victory it needs to maintain its place in the Liguilla. But after yet another injury-riddled and tumultuous season, the prospect of entering the final day with something on the line represents a modest achievement for a club that feared a fate far worse just weeks ago.
Kyle McCarthy writes about the beautiful game for FOX Soccer, the Boston Herald and several other publications. Follow him on Twitter @kylejmccarthy.