Posted on December 3, 2012 13:53
Since he took over midway through the Apertura 2011 season, Antonio “el Turco” Mohamed has coached Xolos for 50 games.
They have only lost 6 of them. Let that sink in for a moment.
In a league where it might be more common for a team to have 6 coaches in 50 games, not lossses, a guy who had no previous top flight coaching experience has been able to accomplish the following in a little under a year and a half:
Save Xolos from relegation
Qualify them to the post season (twice)
Qualify them to the Libertadores
Qualify them to the Concachampions
Win the Liga MX title.
That is quite list of accolades for the Argentine coach whose resume previously detailed a coach who was called in to quell the relegation fires. Those coaches who are well versed in the art of avoiding the drop tend to have a defensive posture, and Mohamed’s Aztec Dogs delivered a series virtuoso defensive performances starting with the second leg of the semifinals vs. León.
Xolos had their nets breached but once in their final three matches. In the final vs Toluca, Mohamed ordered his troops to clog up the flanks with constant double teams. Amazingly, they showed the same amount of energy in the high altitude of Toluca as they did down in TJ. Toluca rarely had an answer, and were usually left with trying to do the same thing on the other side. Which, of course, was met with the same resistance. Toluca did not have the kind of players on the pitch or on the bench who can break double teams with relative ease, did not get a shot off in the first half and only had one real goal scoring threat the entire game. Their playmaker, Zinha, was never a factor.
The game turned on a desperate substitution. Toluca coach, Enrique “Ojitos”, swapped a central defender for a striker. It only took four minutes for the move to backfire.
Fidel Martinez, The Ecuadorian Neymar, split Toluca’s defense on a counter and had to be cut down by Diego Novarretti just outside the box. Fernando Arce’s exquisite free kick bounced off the near post, but right to Richard Ruiz, who clunked it past the keeper. One minute later, the Ecuadorian Neymar was off on the counter again, and this time he found Duvier Riascos who scored easily after a world class juke to get past Alfredo Talavera. Game over.
And just like that, California both Southern and Baja, became the center of the North American soccer universe.
Tijuana is so far away from the Mexican soccer nerve centers that they rarely get any national press. They might as well play in Seattle (which is closer to TJ than Mexico City BTW). They probably got more ink this year in Southern California than they did in Mexico. Even after winning their first title, some papers gave more coverage to the latest installment of the Chivas’ descent into the absurd with the news that Jorge Vergara had fired Johan Cruyff (which apparently was news to Cruyff – more about that later).
Let’s face it, Xolos have won as many trophies asChivas have in the Jorge Vergara era, in about 15% of the time, which is about the same amount of coverage they get compared to the sacred herd. Unfortunately for the string pullers and market makers in Mexican soccer, Xolos is not going anywhere for a while. A long while.
They have the cash, the political connections, a more than very decent following in Southern California, and oh yeah, a very decent crop of players and coach. The problem for Xolos now becomes how many of these, including the coach. Rumors run rampant that Turco is on the Boca Juniors short list in case their coaching situation becomes more fluid.
It is not a surprise that Xolos won the Liga MX title: they tied Toluca on points and were the second seed only due to goal differential. Should it be a surprise, though, how quickly and easily they were able to build a championship team? Whatever the reason, Xolos have established a beachhead in Liga MX. Something teams that have been in the league for decades have failed to do. And Xolos have what they hope is the first of many trophies to show for it.