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Guadalajara

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Marquez Lugo stepping into Chicharito’s void

A Mexico City native spawned from the cantera of Chivas' youth team rivals Pumas, Rafael Marquez Lugo is in no way the typical figurehead of a Guadalajara team. His celebrity status, TV hostess girlfriend, hipster stubble and neatly slicked-back hair almost grind against Chivas' traditional gritty, working class, provincial essence. Marquez Lugo has even played and scored a couple of goals for Club America, which usually invokes the ire of CD Guadalajara fans.

But Marquez Lugo has been nothing short of a revelation for Chivas since joining in the summer of 2012. He is the striker that is finally helping fans come to terms with the fact Javier Hernandez has left and isn't coming back to rescue the club anytime soon.

Sound a little exaggerated? Ever since Hernandez surprised Mexico, and even his own family and friends by popping up on the front page of local newspapers proudly displaying a Manchester United shirt on the morning of April 8, 2010, various directors of soccer and coaches at Chivas have been scrambling around trying to find strikers that can put the ball into the net on a regular basis.

Chivas have scored just 110 league goals in 103 matches since the "Little Pea", as he is known in Manchester, set sail. Scoring has been an obvious problem at the club since he left.

The ghost of Chicharito haunted Chivas, and his timely goals for Manchester United that stole headlines and front pages in Guadalajara's local sports press -- ironically often at the expense of the Rebano Sagrado -- almost became taunts for Chivas fans and a reminder of what they were missing.

Erick "Cubo" Torres was initially tasked with filling the hole and was immediately dubbed "The New Chicharito", but it was entirely unfair. Torres had just turned 18 when he earned his regular starting spot in the team for the Clausura 2011 tournament and was shunted into the limelight far too quickly. Since then, Cubo has had a difficult time with heavy expectations on his shoulders.

Old favorite Omar Bravo also briefly returned and was handed the task of getting goals. Injury-prone Omar Arellano briefly flickered; Michel Vazquez wasn't up to it and even Under-17 World Cup winner Carlos Fierro has been given the responsibility of leading the Chivas attack.

But none have come close to Marquez Lugo.

The player notched his 100th goal in Mexico's first division last Sunday, eleven of those with Chivas, and has averaged a goal every two games since he joined the club. The range of goals has also been impressive: Thirty-yard (meter) free kicks, tap-ins, headers, chips and more. He's an all-round top quality player that has enjoyed the challenge and responsibility at Chivas.

Marquez Lugo has increasingly become the player that fans are pinning their hopes on for near-term success, and the 31-year-old is responding off the pitch as well as on it.

"Those 100 goals I would leave on one side just to win a championship with Chivas," he stated after netting the only goal Guadalajara's 1-0 win against Pachuca on Sunday.

It's like music to Chivas fans' ears.

"I hope I can score many more goals on this pitch and for this team and hope that they are important for the club and for the all the fans that come to watch," continued Marquez Lugo. "I see myself retiring here, becoming a champion and scoring lots of goals."

With Torres still learning his trade and surely picking up the right kinds of tips from Miguel Sabah and Marquez Lugo, and with Fierro also maturing, the present and future of Chivas up front no longer looks bleak.

It's the first time that kind of statement rings true since that halcyon Bicentenario 2010 season when a certain Mr. Hernandez bid farewell to Guadalajara.