Liga MX: Week 5: Veracruz-Chivas provides drama on and off the pitch

Chivas winger Walter Sandoval reacts after mishitting a pass against Santos Laguna. (Photo by Juan Mejia/Jam Media/Getty Images)
Chivas winger Walter Sandoval reacts after mishitting a pass against Santos Laguna. (Photo by Juan Mejia/Jam Media/Getty Images) /

Friday’s featured game has the struggling Chivas of Guadalajara traveling to Veracruz to butt heads with the Tiburones as Week 5 kicks off in Liga MX. But the off-field drama has stripped the spotlight from the pitch at Luis “Pirata” de la Fuente Stadium.

Of course, the shift in attention is welcome news for the Chivas who find themselves tied for last place with Pachuca after a 0-1-3 start to the Apertura 2018 season.

In Friday’s other game, Atlas hosts Morelia at Estadio Jalisco in a must-win game for the host Zorros.

Chivas at Veracruz

Guadalajara ought to be delighted to be playing in the port city. After all, the Chivas have not won a home game since October 2017 and the only team that might be more dysfunctional is Veracruz.

The Tiburones are in 13th place with 4 points (1-1-2) and they are coming off a 3-0 drubbing by América in a midweek Copa MX match.

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But the huge story in the league this week was the resignation of Veracruz coach Memo Vázquez, who alleged that the team owes him several weeks back pay that is somehow linked to the registration of a false contract with the league office. (New manager Juvenal Olmos is the 10th head coach the Tiburones have had since August 2013.)

According to a variety of reports, at least half the team’s players are also due wages in addition to allegedly being cheated by the old contact switcheroo (known as “dobles contratos,” or twin contracts).

Team owner Fidel Kuri and top executive Mario Trejo initially scoffed at Vázquez’s allegations (Trejo later admitted the club was using twin contracts but that they had been in place before he joined the front office three months ago, an admission that encouraged federal Treasury officials to say they would look into the Tiburones’ business practices.)

For his part, Kuri called Vázquez a “drama king” and then mockingly told a reporter that he was “going to Italy this week to spend Memo’s money.”

With all this turbulence, the game has taken a back seat, but it will be interesting to see how many seats are filled since Tiburones fans called for a boycott of tonight’s game, calling Kuri and the team an embarrassment.

On the field, Chivas coach José Cardozo is under heavy pressure to win as the club has been sinking in the relegation standings (the Tiburones currently sit in last place which means they are most likely to be demoted at the end of the Clausura 2019 season unless they turn things around).

Guadalajara has scored 4 goals in 4 games and Cardozo has yet to find a strike force that clicks, a problem magnified by the injury to lead striker Alan Pulido that caused him to miss last week’s match vs Santos. Youngsters José de Jesús Godínez and José Macías have only shown brief glimpses of promise after stellar debuts last season. Ángel Zaldívar is the Chivas’ leading scorer (2 goals) but he has been outrageously profligate in front of goal.

Although the defense has not been terrible, too often opponents have found themselves with wide-open chances and if not for goalie Raúl Gudiño Guadalajara’s goal differential would be alarming.

Veracruz has demonstrated a plucky attitude despite the shortcomings of its roster. Diego Chávez and Cristián Menéndez are tireless in attack and support has come from midfielders Osmar Mares, Hibert Ruiz and Bryan Carrasco. Goalie Melitón Hernández is prone to mistakes, but his performance has been acceptable thus far this season.

When the Shark Bites …

Veracruz Tiburones owner Fidel Kuri has had his share of dust-ups since Veracruz returned to the first division in 2013. After the La Piedad (Guanajuato) team won promotion to the first division in May 2013, team owner Kuri – a native of Orizaba – petitioned the league to move the club to the port city.

In January 2016, Kuri assaulted Eduardo Codesal in the stands at Estadio “Pirata” de la Fuente. Codesal was a member of the league’s Referees Committee. The league suspended Kuri for 1 year (banned from all activities related to the Veracruz Football Club and the league) and he was fined 146,000 pesos.

In June 2016, Kuri – a long-time Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) politician – threatened to move the Tiburones franchise out of Veracruz if the PRI candidate did not win the gubernatorial election set to take place a month later. The PRI candidate lost, but Kuri did not take action.

In September 2016, eight months was added to the suspension after Kuri violated the terms of the ban by verbally attacking a sports reporter.

In October 2016, the new state Congress began investigating contracts signed in December 2015 by outgoing Gov. Javier Duarte (a member of the PRI) that granted Kuri full control of the stadium concessions and advertising rights.

Duarte also tried to grant Kuri full control of the capital city’s High Performance Training Complex but Congress blocked the effort. Duarte said the attempted transfer was to pay off an unstipulated debt. (Just a month later, Duarte went on the run before his term ended and fled the country as the federal government filed charges of embezzlement and illicit enrichment against the fugitive ex-governor.)

In May 2017, the Mexican Football Federation added an extra year to Kuri’s suspension when he ran on to the field at Luis “Pirata” de la Fuente Stadium in April to celebrate after the Tiburones avoided demotion. That suspension just ended three months ago, but if he had violated the terms of the ban for a third time, Kuri likely would have been kicked out of the league.

Morelia at Atlas

The Monarcas travel to Guadalajara to face the winless Zorros confident of stealing all three points on the road. Atlas is the only team in the league that has not scored a goal this season but it has secured 2 points by playing two 0-0 games.

Morelia coach Roberto Hernández has rightfully earned recognition as one of the league’s top tacticians and so far this season he has managed to make up for the loss of last season’s star striker, Raúl Ruidiaz. Diego Valdés and Irven Ávila have linked up to become a serviceable strike force, but the strength of the team is the midfield where Rodrigo Millar, Aldo Rocha, Carlos Fierro and Ray Sandoval hunt for goals.

Monarcas keeper Sebastián Sosa has given up 6 goals in 4 matches, but he has also made several outstanding saves in each game.

As for the Zorros, the only reason the glare of negative attention has not blinded them is because of the turbulent situation at their cross-town rivals, the Chivas.

Thus far, Ricky Álvarez – a veteran of Serie A, Premier League and a member of Argentina’s 2014 World Cup squad – has not meshed well with his new teammates. The fault is not entirely his alone as two other new acquisitions, Colombian Andrés Andrade and Uruguayan Octavio Rivero have been slow to build familiarity and build any rhythm in attack. It may just be a matter of time.

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New team executive Rafa Márquez and coach Gerardo Espinoza are trying to be patient, but Morelia will not take it easy on them at Estadio Jalisco