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 By Tom Marshall

Liga MX: Ten years on from Guardiola, Dorados again on brink of relegation

Pep Guardiola played for Dorados in 2006 when the team was somewhat harshly relegated.

The last time Dorados de Sinaloa were relegated from Mexico's first division, they could leave with their heads held high. Back in the Clausura 2006, Dorados lost only three of their 17 matches -- less than any other team that season; they boasted a holding midfielder by the name of "Pep" Guardiola; the tournament's leading goalscorer in Sebastian "El Loco" Abreu and had a side that was playing attractive football under Spanish coach Juan Manuel Lillo.

It was only the nuances of the Liga MX's complicated relegation system -- in which the team with the worst points-to-games ratio over the past three years goes down -- that doomed Dorados.

Guardiola wasn't happy.

"This percentage invention you can keep. I'm not participating anymore because it is a farce and a lie because there are many teams in the championship that aren't playing for anything," said Guardiola, just after Dorados got relegated in May of that year. "[Teams] know that they won't go down even losing all of their games, so they compete teams without the desire, [the system] doesn't work."

While the quotes hint at the principled mind that would take Guardiola on a meteoric rise in management after leaving Mexico, Dorados de Sinaloa won't be able to once again blame the unjust system when they almost inevitably do go down to the Ascenso MX at the end of the 2016 Clausura in May.

The team from the town of Culiacan has been poor since earning promotion last May. Dorados have won just three out of 25 games and haven't been victorious since Nov. 7, 2015. In their last five games, they have conceded three goals in each.

Losing all seven of their opening games this Clausura means Dorados' start is the worst to a season of any team since the Apertura-Clausura format started in Mexico in 1996.

Even if there was a normal relegation system in which the team with the least points went down each May, Dorados would have 15 points from their 24 games since the 2015 Apertura began last August, with the next-worst team being Atlas on 25 points.

Wilson Morelo and Dorados will be looking for their first win of the Clausura against Atlas.
Wilson Morelo, left, and Dorados will almost certainly be relegated at the end of the Clausura.

That has left them needing around 25 points from their remaining 10 matches this Clausura -- with Chivas not winning any games -- to even have a possibility of staying up. That would be a tough ask of Barcelona in La Liga, nevermind struggling Dorados.

With all that in mind, it feels appropriate to wonder just how much fight was actually in the Gran Pez (Big Fish) this time around. Many of their signings following promotion were players other clubs offloaded because they weren't getting minutes, rather than investments set to make a mark in the first division.

Club Tijuana's ownership bought a 60 percent stake in Dorados in May 2013, when it was in the second division and immediately began to send young prospects down on loan. The aim appeared to be to support Tijuana's expansive youth system with a second division club to fine-tune players before they made the big step up into the first team.

It almost seemed an accident that Sinaloa was promoted just two years after Tijuana bought them.

The warning signs about Dorados' competitiveness in Liga MX were clear when, ahead of their first season back in the top flight, they brought in four Chivas fringe-players. Chivas were always a possible relegation rival and picking up their unwanted players was probably not the best way of competing on the same level.

Even on the TV side, things haven't been great. Dorados matches are only available from a couple of cable providers in Mexico and most people in the country can't watch their home games. In may sound cruel, but they haven't missed much.

Unlike 10 years ago, when Guardiola's team when down fighting, this version of Dorados de Sinaloa simply isn't equipped for first division soccer and is likely to suffer the consequences.

Tom Marshall covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MexicoWorldCup.


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