After watching Pachuca lift Liga MX’s 2022 Apertura title on Sunday, one can’t help but make comparisons to last time Los Tuzos Clinched a Mexican top-flight title in 2016. Little more than six years ago, the script felt oddly similar.
Both stories have a Uruguayan manager of Montevideo (Diego Alonso then, Guillermo Almada now) using an efficient style of play, a strong foundation in the regular season (8W-6D-3L and 30 points in 2016, 9W-5D-3L and 32 shows in 2022) and mainly a well-balanced list with promising academy players.
Known in Mexico for producing some of the country’s most exciting up-and-comers – which led to an announced partnership in August with fellow talent architects Ajax – Los Tuzos Thrived a handful of years ago with youthful options such as Hirving Lozano, Erick Gutierrez and Rodolfo Pizarro taking charge as key figures. Before becoming household names, the trio were budding stars that saw Alonso handed starting roles as the team worked their way into the 2016 Clausura final against big spenders Monterrey.
Gutierrez, then only 20 years old, wore the captain’s armband in the first leg. Along with him, Lozano (20) and Pizarro (22) were pivotal with their attacking efforts which eventually pushed them past Los Reyados And to a 2-1 aggregate result that secured the Clausura championship.
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For Lozano and Gutierrez, moves to Europe followed, with the former now at Napoli and the latter at PSV Eindhoven. Pizarro remained in North America but increased his stock with additional league championships and individual awards such as a CONCACAF Champions League Best XI appearance in 2018 and a Liga MX Best XI appearance in the Clausura 2019.
With 30-plus caps each for Mexico, the three players are success stories from Pachuca’s academy. During last week’s finale, it was easy to spot these Tuzos Prodigies who can become the next luminaries to emerge from Liga MX.
In the heart of the midfield, the 23-year-old Eric Sanchez has been a huge amount of intrigue. Shining as one of the top players in the 8-2 aggregate pummeling of Toluca in the final, Sanchez covered an amazing amount of ground with his defensive interventions and playmaking. After making his senior debut with Mexico in the summer of 2021, the midfielder is now in the running for a World Cup place this November.
Behind him at left-back, 21-year-old Mexican-American Mauricio Isais has been a revelation for Pachuca with his ability to make dangerous runs and also provide crucial tackles at the back. Discovered in 2017 by Alianza, the largest amateur grassroots soccer program in the United States for Latino players, the Texan now has a Liga MX title in hand, a goal in a league final and an upcoming invitation to train with Mexico before the World Cup.
Fellow Pachuca defender Kevin Alvarez has also become an indispensable member of the XI. The 23-year-old native of Colima was often threatened against Toluca, and looked forward to the 23-year-old native of Colima. All threeThe defender is a possible starter for the national team in Qatar.
The list goes on as you look further into Pachuca’s academy setup and full roster, and depending on how things go in the transfer market this winter – TUDN reported on Sunday that clubs from abroad are already looking for midfielder Luis Chavez – their latest title Could prove to be the catalyst for the next big things in Mexican soccer. Even so, producing talent with thrilling potential is only part of the equation Los Tuzos.
While providing the right platform for players has remained a constant for the club in the 21st century, the other part of the puzzle has required a coach who gives opportunities to youngsters and also finds a good roster harmony with more experienced names and foreign additions. As of late 2021, Almada is the perfect manager.
“This speaks to the effort we have made this year since the arrival of Almada, who proposed an intense and strong idea of soccer,” said defender Gustavo Cabral after cementing Sunday’s championship.
Stepping in late last year, the expressive and passionate coach employed an attack-minded and direct style of play that gave significant roles to academy options. Surrounding them in a 4-2-3-1 formation, veteran players such as Romario Ibarra, Oscar Murillo, Oscar Ustari and Golden Boot winner Nicolas Ibañez are the glue that maintains consistent performances.
In last year’s Clausura season, Almada and his roster qualified for the Liga MX final, but landed just short after narrowly losing to Atlas. Months later, they returned and made a statement with their route from Toluca.
“We will lead Pachuca to the place it deserves,” Ibañez said after helping lift the Apertura trophy. “Today is a step forward and we are going for much more.”
But will Almada, and perhaps some of his players who get far more attention, stick around?
A vacancy may soon appear in the Mexico dugout. There have long been reports that manager Gerardo “Tata” Martino will leave All three After the World Cup, and if that is the case, someone like Almada – who is not only a proven winner but also has a track record of supporting young Mexican players – would be a perfect fit. Through a long process in the build-up to the 2026 World Cup, the Uruguayan coach is an ideal name that can usher in a new era and generation.
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The same could also be said for his last opponent, Toluca manager Ignacio “Nacho” Ambriz. Despite the calamitous 8-2 scoreline in the Apertura final, Ambriz and his team have soared in recent months. Once 15th in the league table last season, Ambrys helped mastermind a serious roster overhaul this summer that is a work in progress but also cohesive enough to qualify for the final.
Outcoaching and outmaneuvering every manager in the playoffs this season, outside of Almada, Ambriz helped restore his image as one of Mexico’s top coaches after a less-than-exciting stint in Spain’s second division that lasted just a few months with Huesca in 2021 .
“He’s a genius,” Toluca midfielder Sebastian Saucedo said to ESPN in October about Ambriz. “The way he works training sessions, possession, all the little things… the guy is the real deal.”
Ultimately though, it was Almada and Pachuca who secured the Apertura championship on Sunday. Decisive with their chances and led by their skillful academy players, Los Tuzos Earned their seventh piece of Liga MX silverware since 1999 and are now tied for sixth (with Pumas and Tigres) in the all-time table for Mexico’s top flight.
In 2023, Pachuca will receive an invaluable opportunity to increase their recognition and reputation even more through the CONCACAF Champions League and the expanded League Cup that will feature every MLS and Liga MX club. In their list, extra competitions will create even more chances for minutes for developing players from the club’s famous academy.
Six years ago, Lozano, Gutierrez and Pizarro were the hyped up. This October, Sanchez, Ysais and Alvarez received similar acclaim. And in 2023? Expect to see even more new faces coming from among the most admired in the country Football Factory.