Necaxa’s Apertura 2019 performance has stoked images of title-winning teams of the past. The Rayos were dominant in the 1930s, then fans suffered five decades of trial and tribulation before another championship era – the 1990s and “El Equipo de la Década.” Since, it has been mostly heartache and frustration. This is Part III of a three-part series on the history of Club Necaxa.
Despite finishing the Verano 2002 season in 7th place, Necaxa marched through the Liguilla with relative ease. The Rayos shut out No. 2 seed Toluca, then blanked the league’s highest-scoring team, Santos, 1-0 on aggregate.
The Electricistas squared off against América – led by former coach Manuel Lapuente – in the Final and took a 2-0 lead after the first leg, a fifth consecutive clean sheet in the playoffs. But it all fell apart in the second half of the return match. The Aguilas scored twice in a 3-minute stretch, then scored a Golden Goal in overtime to deny the Rayos a fourth title.
Necaxa had reached its sixth Final since 1995 but unexpected playoff success could not slow the decline that had begun as the magical 1990s “Team of the Decade” stars had aged. The Rayos set a team record for points in 1998 (a record that still stands), posting consecutive 10-2-5 records that year (32 points).
Club owner Grupo Televisa focused more investment on América and kept Necaxa’s payroll low, adhering to a bottom line hampered by low attendance. Estadio Azteca appeared cavernous during Necaxa home games. Fans had their choice of seats; you could hear the players communicating with each other from the second level.
A year later, the Rayos would move out of Mexico City and relocate to the state of Aguascalientes. Grupo Televisa hoped that Necaxa could develop its very own fan base, arguing that it could not thrive as the fifth favorite team in the capital. Once again, Rayos fans were orphaned.
Necaxa ‘HidroRayos’ are born
A modest payroll and conservative tactics do not an exciting team make. Even so, coach Raúl Arias had been with the team since 1998 and he provided stability and consistency to the franchise. Arias always seemed to squeeze everything he could out of the team, but Necaxa was simply overmatched.
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The HidroRayos – adapted to reflect their new home, Aguascalientes, and the nickname of people who hail from that state: Hidrocálidos – made the playoffs the first season in Estadio Victoria, but then sank to 15th. An 11th-place finish was followed by two straight playoff appearances, both ending in the quarterfinals.
All the while, front office controversy plagued the team. Allegations of corruption and evidence of mismanagement were complicating Grupo Televisa’s efforts to sell the team to local investors. After the Clausura 2005 season ended in the quarterfinals against the UAG Tecos, coach Arias was sacked in an attempt to deflect criticism from the front office.
Team morale plummeted and results reflected the crumbling organizational structure. The Rayos finished in last place in the Clausura 2006, continuing an inevitable descent toward relegation.
The Clausura 2009 ended with Necaxa mired in 17th place for a second straight season and the Rayos were sent packing to the second division. Arias had been brought back to stave off relegation, but he could not save the team, and a new sense of abandonment washed over Necaxa fans. Not only had the team departed Mexico City, now it was playing in Ascenso MX.