The Aguilas won the Copa MX but came up short in their Liga MX title defense. Meanwhile, the Tiburones set historical standards in futility.
América coach Miguel Herrera told reporters before the Clausura 2019 season that his team would not be satisfied with defending their Liga MX title. No, the Aguilas were on a mission to win the double – their goal was to hoist both the Liga MX and the Copa MX trophies.
The champs struggled to get started and battled injuries all season, but always seemed like the league’s most dangerous team. The team cruised through the Copa MX, outscoring their final four opponents 12-2 to claim the title. But they couldn’t overcome top-seeded León in the semifinals and their quest for a repeat was over.
At the other end of the scale, Veracruz became the first Liga MX team to finish a season with 0 points. That’s right … zero points.
The Tiburones also suffered the indignity of earning the earliest relegation in league history. It only took them 12 games to clinch their demotion.
Veracruz owner Fidel Kuri continues to be a black eye for Liga MX. He again fell behind on paying wages and was hit with a penalty by FIFA because he refused to reimburse a Uruguayan soccer team for “training and development fees.”
This is the second in an occasional series looking back at the Clausura 2019 season.
Aguilas get wings clipped
América started the Clausura slowly, losing 4 of its first 7 games (including a 3-0 home spanking from León). The team struggled with injuries (both Mateus Uribe and Oribe Peralta had foot surgery in late January) and Diego Lainez left for Spain and Real Betis the same month.
Striker Nicolás Castillo was finally brought in just before the transfer window closed but he did not prove to be the sharpshooter as advertised. He also missed several weeks with a hamstring strain late in the season. Another striker, Roger Martínez, also missed time with injury.
So once again, the Aguilas made do with a rugged defense led by Guido Rodríguez and Bruno Valdez who also supplied timely goals (they each had 3). Herrera also dipped into América’s academy and debuted three youngsters – José Clemente, 19, Fernando González, 21, and Iván Moreno.
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Despite the struggles in league play, América marched through Pachuca, Guadalajara, Tijuana and Juárez to claim their first Copa MX title in 45 years. Unfortunately, Nicolás “The Poet” Benedetti broke his foot during the game, just as the midfielder was taking on the role as lead playmaker. Returning to league action the next week, the Aguilas tied Cruz Azul, then lost to Toluca. Suddenly, the champs were in 7th place and in danger of missing out on the playoffs entirely.
But Herrera led his team to two wins to qualify as the No. 5 seed, then victimized Cruz Azul (again) in the quarterfinals. They came face-to-face with top-seeded León but came up short despite outplaying the Esmeraldas in León in the return match.
Of note, “El Piojo” Herrera ended the season tied with Carlos Reinoso for third place on América’s lost of Coaches with Most Wins (112).
This Shark stopped swimming long ago
The Tiburones of Veracruz had an impossible task entering the Clausura as demotion was all but certain. They started 20 points behind Puebla – the team closest to them in the relegation standings – meaning they would have to record about 40 points to ensure salvation. They ended up only 40 points short.
Veracruz didn’t earn a victory all season. Heck! They didn’t even score a goal until Matchday 8! The Tiburones actually climbed out of the cellar by somehow claiming 4 ties, including 2 scoreless draws. But after Matchday 14, FIFA penalized Veracruz for refusing to pay $244,500 dollars in “training and development fees” to Uruguayan club Wanderers in compensation for a player they signed in 2017. FIFA hit them with a 6-point penalty (they only had 4 anyway), and financial sanctions are still pending. Kuri later claimed the Mexican Soccer Federation is engaged in a conspiracy against him.
After the FIFA action, Veracruz lost their final three games to finish the season with 0 points. But, lucky for all of us owner Fidel Kuri paid the federation a $120 million-dollar buy-in fee to remain in Liga MX. (But he didn’t have a measly quarter-of-a-million dollars to pay Wanderers? He also still owes $20 million dollars in unpaid bonuses to former Veracruz players.)
Kuri is the same owner who once punched the Referees Association president after a January 2016 game, earning himself a trifling one-year suspension and a measly 146,080-peso fine.
The Veracruz owner also benefited from questionable deals with state Gov. Javier Duarte (now jailed on suspicion of money laundering and corruption charges). He then violated federal Election Laws by threatening to move the Tiburones out of Veracruz if Duarte’s party did not win the 2016 gubernatorial election. His candidate lost anyway, and he did not relocate.
In September 2016, an additional eight months was tagged onto his suspension after he verbally assaulted a reporter in Puebla. The next year, Kuri was suspended an additional year after failing to abide by the terms of the suspension.
So, the Veracruz owner came off suspension just in time to watch his Tiburones put two of the worst seasons ever, back-to-back last-place finishes. And they’ll be back again next season … lucky us.