One of the unique things about the Mexican leagues, is that they’re split into two – the Opening Stage and Closing Stage.
It’s essentially boiled town to two mini seasons in one. Even within that, the league standings only inform the end of stage cup – all very straight forward…!
As soon we we touched down in Mexico the majority of the squad thought it was the perfect time to request a new contract. With the key players renegotiated and the deadwood ignored, we eventually got away from the boardroom and into the dugout. When we were given the top job at Universidad de Guadalajara, there was one ‘regular’ league game left – annoyingly against top of the table Caleya. This coupled with my top striker, Jorlian Sanchez, away on international duty with Panama proved too much as we went down 2-1.
An 8th placed finish was all we could muster, with the full blame landing at the feet of Jorge Davalos, who’s passion for leading the side to a draw in over half his games saw him get the boot.
The post-league cup beckoned with a trip to Altenos Tepa in the prelim round. Cruising at 3-0 with 2 minutes left, we somehow conceded two goals to make the final few minutes a bit nervy. Goals from Baltazar, the impressive Diaz and Ascencio ultimately saw us though.
The quarter final was a tense affair as we took on Cimarrones. Being the lower ranked side in the table, we had our home leg first. This seemed to suit us as we dominated with a goal in each half from Ascencio and Sanchez. In truth it could’ve been a lot more as we spurned several opportunities. Still, a 2-0 win against a side who finished 3rd in the table wasn’t to be sniffed at.
The return leg was was a lot more even game, with Cimarrones edging the first half. Their progress was halted by the over eager Reyes receiving his marching orders just before the break. We defended sensibly after the break, securing a 0-0 draw on the day to see us through to the next round 2-0 on agg!
Semi final time. Between us and a frankly the absurd idea of a final were Celaya. The team we began our managerial career against, a mere 4 games ago.
With the home game up first again, we aimed for more of the same. Try and get in front in the first leg, then defend that lead in the second.
Another massive home performance was delivered by the players – Ortiz heading home a corner midway through the first half sent the 15,000+ home fans wild. 1-0 up!
The Guadalajara fans were celebrating again as Partida slammed home a second goal, only for the linesman’s flag to stop the halt the home fans joy. A quiet second half from both sides saw UdeG bring home a narrow 1-0 win, though restricting the away side, who had topped the league, to only 2 wayward shots was a superb effort by all.
With our noses in front by the narrowest of margins, we made the trip to Celaya dreaming of making the final. Both teams felt each other out in the first half, with neither side making the other keeper work. Both teams pushed on after the break, but ultimately neither side could break the deadlock. The game finished 0-0 and we continued on to the final!
The final, eh? Who’ve guessed it! A two legged affair with Mineros stood between us and some rather unlikely silverwear only 8 games into our managerial career.
Once again, home comforts were first up for us, and in front of a passionate and loud home crowd of over 19,000, Baltazar put us ahead half way through the opening half. That goal was the only real action of an otherwise quiet first half. After the break, Mineros came out looking a different side and grabbed a deserved equaliser from the leagues top scorer, Zuniga, on the hour. Both sides had further chances to steal an early advantage in the tie, but the game ended level.
In both the quarter and semi final, we’d taken a lead from the first leg into the crucial away leg. As the news trickled through into the away dressing room that the dangerous Zuniga hadn’t made the starting line up, belief began to flow through the squad. Sure enough we started on the front foot and the impressive Ascencio tucked the ball nearly under the Mineros keeper in the 20th minute to give us an unlikely lead away from home!
After half time the home side opened up more as they tried to find themselves a goal to bring them back into the final, this left gaps for us to explore. The pressure finally told in added on time at the end as Quintero raced clear and smashed the ball past the onrushing Monreal in the Mineros goal to double our lead in the game and the tie with only seconds remaining. The 1000 strong away fans went absolutely bananas, which continued as the referee blew his final whistle as the away bench erupted onto the field. A fine away performance had brought some silverwear to the club SO early in my tenure! Bliss!
After the excitement had died down and the open top bus tour had finished. We got back down to the detail – transfers. With the January window only 3 weeks away, and multiple positions needing reinforcement. It was time to plan. If we could finish 8th and win the cup, what could we do if we finish higher in the closing stage league?!