Unpaid Veracruz players take a stand … literally

After days of turmoil due to weeks of unpaid wages, the Tiburones showed up for their game against the Tigres, in a manner of speaking.

Matchday 14 kicked off the Liga MX stretch run with three important matches. Atlas helped its playoff chances with a road win at Puebla, while Santos moved back into first place with an explosive performance against visiting Tijuana. But the drama before and after the night’s games was centered in Veracruz.

Fans bought a ticket to a soccer match in Veracruz and got a Monty Python skit instead. The Tiburones took the field against the visiting Tigres on Friday night but continued their protest by refusing to play for the game’s first 3 minutes. The Tigres, however, didn’t fully comply with the Tiburones’ demonstration and scored twice.

This apparent lack of unity on the part of the Tigres earned the wrath of pundits in post-game chat shows, with many voices opining that the outcome of the week-long turbulence has effectively made the players association (AMFPro) a non-entity. This latter point was bitterly made by former players who have seen all previous efforts to organize players get crushed by league owners and the national soccer federation.

Veracruz players stand their ground

Veracruz owner Fidel Kuri has not been paying his players – or team employees, evidently – for some months and complaints fell on deaf ears at league offices. The players decided to make a stand. In the week leading up to their home game against the Tigres, Veracruz players had insisted they would not play if the league did not resolve the situation.

Kuri told reporters that he would use junior players from the Under-20 team (who also weren’t getting paid), but senior players contacted the U-20 kids and the coaches urging them to respect their protest.

Then, something happened. Some unconfirmed reports before the game suggested that the league and the national soccer federation had agreed to set aside an emergency fund to pay players whose salaries were not being paid. So, the Tiburones boarded the team bus and headed to the stadium.

Once the opening whistle blew, however, Veracruz took the kickoff and passed the ball back to their goalie Sebastián Jurado, then didn’t move. At the same time, the entire Veracruz bench and coaching staff walked to the touch line and stood in unison while the Tiburones on the pitch remained motionless.

Tigres players jogged around, but it was apparent they weren’t entirely sure what was happening. You could see some of them chatting with Veracruz players. Finally, at the 1-minute mark, the Tigres moved toward the ball and Jurado kicked it out, but none of the other Veracruz players moved. As the clock ticked past the 1:30 mark, the Tigres had control and Edu Vargas lofted a long shot from about 45 meters that soared into the net. No Tiburones players moved.

The Tiburones repeated their protest, sending the kick off back to Jurado who held the ball for nearly a minute before kicking it out of bounds.

Veracruz takes a stand

Edu Vargas chases down a loose ball while Veracruz defender Leobardo Lopez simply watches during the game’s first 3 minutes. (Photo by VICTOR CRUZ/AFP via Getty Images)

Two minutes later, Vargas dribbled around the last Veracruz defender about 25 meters out but circled back away from goal, before passing to André-Pierre Gignac. The Frenchman fired from 35 meters, sending the ball into the net for a 2-0 Tigres lead.

Some of the Veracruz players were furious, but they started to play a bit, mostly fouling the Tigres. A wide variety of comments flowed across social media: the Tigres showed no solidarity; their coach ordered them to start playing; Veracruz had not fully explained the terms of their protest to the Tigres.

The game resumed in a more-or-less orderly fashion after that, but the entire affair will be analyzed and over-analyzed for the next several days. Liga MX officials appear unwilling to accept any responsibility and the situation will leave Mexican soccer with a black eye.

Oh, by the way, the Tigres won 3-1 with the Tiburones tallying their goal in minute 90.

Santos 4, Tijuana 1

The home team came out blazing, nearly scoring twice in the opening 40 seconds. Tijuana settled down after that and controlled the tempo for the next 30 minutes, hurrying Santos into mistakes and frustrating the hosts.

Veracruz takes a stand

After his diving header was blocked, Brian Lozano was able to nod this ball forward while flat on his stomach, and poke it home while scrambling to his feet to give Santos a 1-0 lead. (Photo by Armando Marin/Jam Media/Getty Images)

In minute 33, Diego Valdes controlled a long pass near midfield, spun into the clear and raced down the right flank with Brian Lozano filling the left lane. Valdés waited too long to make the pass and then his cross was hard and low. Lozano dived low and headed the ball at net, but goalie Gibran Lajud blocked it. The ball bounced behind the keeper and Lozano was able to nod it forward while prone on the ground and while scrambling to his feet, he got just enough of a toe poke to send it trickling over the goal line.

Nine minutes later, Lozano and Valdes teamed up again to make it 2-0. Lozano helped steal the ball as Tijuana tried to clear their zone, chased a through pass into the box and cut a perfect cross back into the path of Valdes who banged it into the back of the net.

Santos’ third goal came just before halftime off a textbook fast break. A Tijuana corner kick was cleared and the Guerreros were off to the races as a lead pass sent Fernando Gorriarán free down the left side. The Uruguayan midfielder took a few touches before sending a curling cross all the way to the other side of goal where Julio Furch thumped it into the opposite side netting.

Veracruz takes a stand

Octavio Rivero (left) celebrates after scoring Santos’ fourth goal of the game against Tijuana. (Photo by Armando Marin/Jam Media/Getty Images)

Tijuana momentarily revived their chances in minute 57 when Erick Torres headed home off a Mauro Lainez pass. But that was all they would generate.

Santos got their fourth of the game in minute 86. Literally seconds after entering the game, sub Adrián Lozano filtered a perfect pass to Octavio Rivero near the top of the box, and Rivero slotted home with ease.

Puebla 0, Atlas 1

Facundo Barceló scored in minute 85 to clean up a listless Zorros performance and earn a key road win. The victory moved them temporarily into sixth place, pending other weekend results.

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Atlas did not look crisp against a defensive Puebla side, often indecisive and out of sorts. Despite a considerable advantage in possession (62% to 38%), the Zorros were ineffective in their offensive third.

Puebla created a few scoring chances in the second half and it seemed that Atlas would be lucky to escape with a draw. But less than 10 minutes after checking in, teen sub Christopher Trejo created space down the left flank and chipped a neat cross into the center of the box where Barceló lifted his left foot about knee high and clipped a nifty volley of his instep and past Puebla goalie Nicolás Vikonis. That was all the Zorros would need to claim all three points.

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