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Santos' Copa MX crown deserving of rich praise

With their victory in penalties over Puebla in the Copa MX final, Santos won their first trophy since claiming the 2012 Liga MX Clausura.
With their victory in penalties over Puebla in the Copa MX final, Santos won their first trophy since claiming the 2012 Liga MX Clausura.

I felt great emotion when young goalkeeper Julio González blocked the penalty kick that transformed the wet, rain-soaked and dramatic evening of soccer in Torreon, Mexico, into glory. Santos raised the Copa MX trophy, the value of which, as a tournament, may be questioned, but in no way can the hard work and development Santos Laguna has undergone as a soccer club in recent years be put in doubt.

There might be some people who, despite the Copa victory, feel the need to remind us -- in the midst of the celebration, the medals and the trophy -- that Santos hasn't won a league match in seven matchdays and their survival may depend on another team, that Tuesday night's success, or relative success, can't even guarantee Pedro Caixinha will continue as coach.

I think we're looking at a different kind of scenario.

No other organization -- unless you want to include Pachuca -- has grown so remarkably in Mexican soccer in the past 30 years. A small team that used to play in a small stadium in a medium-sized economy that has grown disproportionately and become a big player in Mexican soccer. It started under the auspices of the Modelo Group (the traditional Mexican brewing company with Hispanic roots) and then -- following a terribly shaky stretch that included such an unmemorable character as Carlos Ahumada -- there fortunately appeared Alejandro Irarragorri, who has had the capacity to find financial and athletic backing, make appropriate decisions, support them with the right people and put Santos back on the road that saw them change the course of history at the end of last century.

Irarragorri has made some of the most significant decisions in the modern history of the club. It was he who pushed for and succeeded in getting a new, modern stadium built. He also played a key role in breaking away from the Modelo Group -- after new owners arrived at the brewery -- and in finding local financing to support the team, he's also been key in his desire to give a different meaning to the sporting side of the business. Today, Santos acts as if it were a European club, at which discipline, hard work and planning are much more important than improvising like other teams in their same league. The results have been clear: A foundation that produces players, high quality, entertaining foreign players who have donned the green jersey and, I insist, a winning team, the image of a team that might suffer setbacks, displeasures, lose finals or get caught in slumps but a team that always plays competitively.

I'm sure that Irarragorri will be able to recognize the fine work Caixinha has been doing and that, in the Portuguese, he's found a different kind of coach, one who can lay the foundation for the future of the club.

There is no such thing as first- or second-class cups. Trophy cases at big clubs always have room for more. And Santos, in the past three decades, has been a leading team on the pitch.

David Faitelson is based in Los Angeles and co-hosts "Nacion ESPN," ESPN Deportes' version of "SportsNation." Follow him on Twitter @Faitelson_ESPN.


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