GUADALAJARA – Just watching Sunday midday games in mid-April in Pumas’ Ciudad Universitaria is enough to produce beads of sweat on the forehead. For a Chivas team that new coach Ricardo La Volpe has already hinted is not as fit as it should be, the combination of heat and altitude saw Guadalajara wilt and home side Pumas run out deserved 1-0 winners in Mexico City. But for ‘keeper Antonio Rodriguez – who La Volpe had worked especially hard with in the week – the score would’ve been kinder to Pumas, who qualified for the playoffs with the result. Chivas, on the other hand, must win away at Monterrey next weekend and hope other results fall their way to get into the so-called fiesta grande. At this point, it’s improbable that Chivas will make the postseason. La Volpe switched to a back five system for the majority of Sunday’s match, fielding Gerardo Rodriguez, Patricio “Pato” Araujo and Nestor Vidrio in the central three positions and Omar Esparza and Edgar “Tepa” Solis on the flanks. The take-away? Much work remains on the playing field and in the next transfer window for the team to be molded into one of La Volpe’s liking. Gerardo Rodriguez was brought from Toluca as a full back, Pato Rodriguez is predominantly considered a midfielder and Vidrio can play in the center or at right back. Considering all that, the three did reasonably well, even if they were given the run-around for David Ramirez’s goal in the 55th minute. Chivas continue to miss injured trio Jair Pereira, Jorge “Chaton” Enriquez and Jesus “Chapo” Sanchez – who played well last season as a right wing back. But even with those 100 percent fit, the bottom line remains that this still seems a hollow shell of a side as a collective, with too many of the young individuals still developing, but already shouldering a heavy responsibility for the side’s fortunes.
Carlos Fierro was the classic example against Pumas. Bright, positive and dangerous on the ball, Fierro always looked like he would cause a threat to Pumas for the 60 minutes he was on the field, but he continues to have problems in his decision-making when a space to shoot opens up or a chance to cross presents itself. David Ramirez, just 18, Carlos Cisneros and striker Angel Zaldivar show similar raw talent combined with natural growing pains.
The exception was Giovani Hernandez, who was surprisingly left on the bench by La Volpe, but appears set to bloom under the Argentine. The player tipped for big things in Guadalajara is showing renewed confidence and looked the most likely to come up with something to hand Chivas what would’ve been an undeserved equalizer after he came on in the 61st. Of the experienced players, more has to be expected of Omar Bravo and Aldo de Nigris, who were both below-par on Sunday, although the duo have had injury concerns in recent weeks. Chivas are now on 21 points and have scored just 13 goals in 16 games this Clausura. Only Puebla and Tigres have scored less. If they don’t make the playoffs, La Volpe will take very little blame and he’d start next season with the statistic that Chivas have only made one of the last four playoffs, two of the last eight and only three of the last 10. In only one of those seasons (Bicentenario 2010) could you say the club genuinely had a good season. Those kinds of facts may be an extra bargaining chip when it comes to forcing owner Jorge Vergara’s hand in syphoning off some much-needed money for new recruits to lift the club out of its slump. But nobody in Guadalajara is holding their breath.