New coach Guillermo Vázquez has been given the task of eliminating the bad taste last season left in the mouth of fans of Los Rayos de Necaxa.
Necaxa opened last season with a stunning upset of heavily favored América and then scored a late winner against Lobos BUAP to take up a position near the top of the Liga MX table. The season basically went downhill from there, eventually costing coach Marcelo Michel Leaño his job.
Ahead of the Clausura 2019 season, Guillermo Vázquez was hired to manage the Rayos but he will have to guide Necaxa without two of the stars from the fast start enjoyed during the Apertura 2018 season. Striker Víctor Dávila – the top goal-scorer in Liga MX through 3 weeks – and Dieter Villalpando – the author of the game-winner against Lobos – will be plying their trade elsewhere.
Vázquez won’t be expected to perform miracles after the club’s 16th-place finish last season, but he will be called upon to improve the team’s attitude which too often resembled disinterest.
Vázquez joins Necaxa after leaving Veracruz in contentious fashion after Matchday 4 (Aug. 14, 2018), claiming the conditions of his job with the Tiburones had become impossible to bear. He had guided Veracruz out of the relegation zone in the Clausura 2018 season to keep them in Mexico’s top division. Memo also coached at Cruz Azul, winning the Clausura 2013 Copa MX and reaching the final of the league that same season where the Cementeros lost to América. He also managed UNAM on three separate occasions, winning the Clausura 2011 league title with the Pumas.
The Rayos have plenty of holes to fill and a new tactical philosophy to install. Coach Michel employed a weaving motion offense that encouraged possession, spacing and an attacking mentality. Too often, the offense broke down due to a lack of patience and frustration, occasionally leading to solo efforts that left the defense vulnerable.
Vázquez will probably employ a more conservative style that relies on solid defense and spreading the field on offense. The front office also recognized the defensive deficiencies – the Rayos gave up 29 goals in 17 games, third-worst in Liga MX – and they have brought in some reinforcements.
Necaxa acquired 24-year-old right back Carlos Guzman from Morelia. Guzmán was a member of Mexico’s Under-17 World Cup-winning team in 2011, but has had trouble finding a home in Liga MX. He has bounced around from Morelia to Puebla to Tijuana and León as Morelia loaned him out frequently to provide him with playing time. The Rayos hope he can take over the fullback position and help shore up the defense.
To help with that responsibility, Rayos management also brought in defenders Fernando Meza from Chile’s Colo-Colo and Alexis Peña from Pachuca. Meza – a 28-year-old Argentine – played with Necaxa during the Apertura 2016 season but did not establish himself, starting in only 5 of the 14 games in which he appeared. He suffered a knee injury in mid-2017 but has worked himself back into shape.
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Peña – who will turn 23 next month – is on loan from Pachuca and he will be expected to help fill the vacancy left by the release of veteran central defender Leobardo López who often teamed up with US international Ventura Alvarado in central defense. Luis Pérez also got plenty of starts on defense and he returns to share the load.
Forward Ángel Sepúlveda was brought over from Guadalajara and he will be in line to replace Dávila in the front line. He will be joined in attack by veterans Martín Barragan and Claudio Riaño. The latter should be fully recovered from knee surgery that limited his contribution last season.
Also up front are shifty wingers Daniel Álvarez and Facundo Castro, plus forwards Brian Fernández and Sebastián Córdova.
Hugo González returns as first-choice keeper. Though he struggled at times – no doubt in large part due to the leaky defense – the 28-year-old goalie did enough to get multiple call-ups to El Tri. Veteran Yosgart Gutiérrez is expected to continue as his back-up.
On defense, Honduras international Brayan Beckeles and Chilean Felipe Gallegos will be expected to pick up their games.
As for its schedule, Necaxa will have three shots at knocking the crown off the head of league champion América. The Rayos’ Matchday 1 game at Estadio Azteca was postponed until February (evidently, the Aguilas need extra rest after winning the Apertura 2018 title on Dec. 16 even though losing finalist Cruz Azul will take the field during the first week of the Clausura 2019 season). In addition to the regular season match on March 5, the Rayos and Aguilas will square off twice in the Copa MX as rivals in Group 4 (in Aguascalientes on Jan. 15 and in Mexico City on Feb. 15). Atlético San Luis is the third member of Group 4.