The sale of the Querétaro franchise might turn the upcoming Clausura into a rebuilding season for the Gallos.
The winter transfer window in Mexico takes place partly in between seasons and typically lasts through the first three-four weeks of the Clausura. This time around, one team’s circumstances – the Gallos Blancos of Querétaro – have resulted in a dramatic philosophical change that will transform them considerably.
At the Liga MX Owners Meeting this month, the head honchos approved the sale of the Querétaro franchise to Grupo Caliente, the corporate group that owns the Xolos of Tijuana. Grupo Caliente promptly made it clear that they will be restructuring the Gallos Blancos with a close eye on the financial bottom line. The result could be a long season for Querétaro fans.
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The Gallos Blancos surprised pundits by being a contender right from the start of the Apertura 2019. Víctor Manuel Vucetich had the black-and-blue gang flirting with the top seed through the first half of the season before injuries took a toll. Querétaro held on and as players returned to the line-up a late push saw the Gallos Blancos claim the No. 4 seed.
In the playoffs, the fifth-seeded Rayos of Necaxa pounced on Querétaro, winning the first leg at home 3-0. The Gallos Blancos refused to concede and, in the second leg at home, they scored twice in the first 17 minutes, leaving 73 minutes to find the equalizer which would have sent them through to the semifinals as the higher seed. It was not to be, however, as Necaxa held firm and the Gallos’ magical season came to an end.
Querétaro fans were still recovering from the tough loss when word emerged of the sale. Dreams of chasing another playoff run in May suddenly seem a bit more far-fetched.
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Vucetich indicated he was going to step aside, intimating that he was displeased with the decision of the new ownership to cut back payroll and operate a tighter budget. Fortunately, on Dec. 12, the Gallos Blancos announced they had come to an agreement with the coach and he will stay on through the Clausura 2020. But the roster he’ll have to work with will be significantly different.
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Querétaro must fill the hole left by agile striker Ake Loba whose loan deal has come to an end. His 6 goals led the team. The 22-year-old striker from the Ivory Coast returns to the Tigres although the Tigres might shop him to MLS (Nashville is said to have interest).
Jordan Sierra is also returning to the Tigres after his loan deal expired upon the Gallos Blancos’ elimination in the quarterfinals. Sierra settled into the defensive midfield role that became available when Luis Romo was forced back into central defense when injuries devastated the back line. Both players will be tough to replace.
Another big loss will be Alonso Escoboza who became a terror on the left flank when Vucetich converted him to a fullback after he spent the first seven years of his career in midfield. Escoboza was acquired by América who is also taking a close look at Jordi Cortizo, the young midfield playmaker. If Cortizo stays with the Gallos, he will surely be a contributor in the Clausura.
Two other losses are right fullback George Corral and forward Ayron del Valle who are out of contract. This comes on top of the absence of central defender Alexis Pérez who suffered a knee injury in October that will keep him off the pitch through most of the Clausura.
Management has already taken some steps to fill a few roster spots, shipping three Tijuana players to Querétaro for Vucetich to utilize. Hulking Argentine striker Ariel Nahuelpan, Uruguayan midfielder Ignacio Rivera and Julián Velázquez, a central defender from Argentina, are now Gallos Blancos players.
Nahuelpan scored 6 goals for the Xolos and the other two players are serviceable, if limited, defensive-minded players. The acquisition of Velázquez might allow Vucetich to place Romo back in the holding midfield role at which he excelled during the early part of the Apertura.
Until the Querétaro roster is finalized in late January, it would seem the Gallos will adopt a conservative style of play unless some of the speed the team lost is replaced.