Remember when … Necaxa was Team of the Decade

Necaxa players pose with the trophy after defeating Guadalajara to win the Invierno 1998 title. (Photo by AllsportUK /Allsport)
Necaxa players pose with the trophy after defeating Guadalajara to win the Invierno 1998 title. (Photo by AllsportUK /Allsport) /
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The Rayos had been a dominant team in the 1930s, but declined to join the professional league that started in 1943. The club finally joined the league in 1950, but it was a long road back to relevance … and glory. This is Part II of a three-part series on the history of Club Necaxa.

Necaxa reappeared for the 1982-83 season, but the loyalty of Necaxa fans had been tested too often and the club struggled to attract people to its games. Twice betrayed, Necaxistas forlornly embraced other teams, especially during the Atlético Español era when the new team owners actively recruited support from among Spanish communities in Mexico City.

The franchise tried to recapture its lost fanbase, but to no avail. Technically, Necaxa had not disappeared again, but Rayos fans refused to embrace the Toros to Atlético Español. And the team did not perform well enough to recapture the interest of its forlorn former supporters. The only highlight in the decade of the 70s was an appearance in the 1974 Finals, a 4-2 loss to Cruz Azul.

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Televisa stepped in to prop up the club in 1982 and they revived the team name, Necaxa. The Rayos were back and the television giant also provided the team with practice facilities, but the struggles on the field continued. Twice during the 1980s the Rayos barely avoided relegation.

Putting lightning in a bottle

Grupo Televisa finally purchased the team outright in 1988 and overhauled the front office. The next year, the organization started focusing on scouting and player development. One of their first acquisitions was a slightly stooped, unathletic-looking lad from Ecuador – Alex Aguinaga. By the time his career was over, Aguinaga would become a Necaxa icon and arguably one of the most accomplished foreign-born players in Mexican soccer.

The next season, the Rayos brought in Chilean striker Ivo Basay who led the Rayos in scoring the first half of the 90s. Before the 1992-93 season got underway, ownership hired coach Roberto Saporiti – a Menotti protégé – and brought in the legendary Enrique Borja to run the front office. These moves set the foundation for Necaxa to become “El Equipo de la Década” (“The Team of the Decade”).

The Rayos finished the 1992-93 season as the league leader, but were routed 5-2 in the quarterfinals by eventual champion Atlante, the No. 10 seed. The rojiblancos appeared to be a team on the verge of a championship run, however, with young stars like striker Ivo Basay, team leader Aguinaga and five players who saw action with El Tri during World Cup qualifiers, including Ignacio Ambriz, Alberto García Aspe and Ricardo Peláez.

However, Necaxa slumped during the 1993-94 season and got knocked out at the wild-card stage by América, costing Saporiti his job. In came Manuel Lapuente who worked with Borja to restock the Rayos roster. Octavio “Picas” Becerril, Eduardo Vilchis and José María Higareda were brought in to shore up the defense, and Sergio “El Ratón” Zárate would add speed to the flanks.

Necaxa, fond memories
Necaxa fans pose for a picture prior to a Rayos game in Nevada this past summer. (Photo by Omar Vega/Getty Images) /

By the end of the 1994-95 season, Necaxa had ended its 56-year title drought. The Rayos hoisted the Liga MX trophy after a 3-1 aggregate victory over Cruz Azul. Ivo Basay scored two of Necaxa’s three goals and Aguinaga added the other. The Rayos had defeated the defending champion UAG Tecos in the quarterfinals and eliminated the Chivas in the semifinals before outscoring the league’s best offense with a tremendous display of teamwork and tactical discipline.

Necaxa also won the Copa Mexico and the Cup Winners Cup that season, the last time a Liga MX team has pulled off that treble.