Pachuca, the team that led Liga MX in goals in the fall, suddenly has a scoring problem.
In the past five league matches, Tuzos have failed to find the back of the net. Despite boasting some of the league's best attackers, the goals aren't coming for Diego Alonso's squad. But when Pachuca meets Tigres on Tuesday in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League final, the team hopes it can leave those problems in the league.
This is a different tournament, one that Alonso and the club have put a premium on, resting starters like center back Oscar Murillo and winger Jonathan Urretaviscaya for the majority of Saturday's scoreless draw against Chivas ahead of Tuesday's final.
"I'm calm," forward Franco Jara said at a news conference Monday. "The league is a bit hard for us right now, but in CONCACAF in two matches we've scored six goals."
To have a chance to lift the trophy after the second leg at the Estadio Hidalgo, where the club is next to impossible to defeat, Pachuca will need to keep it close. That may mean scoring at least once against Tigres, with Ricardo "Tuca" Ferretti's attack boasting one of the deepest arsenals in the Americas.
And those big guns are firing at the right time. After a miserable start to the season, Tigres enter Tuesday's contest on the back of a 3-0 win over Chivas during the week and a 4-0 win over Pumas on Saturday. While missing the postseason seemed like a real worry for Tigres, they're now just one point behind Pachuca for the eighth and final Liguilla place with three weeks remaining.
In reality, both teams are best served by putting that aside and forgetting all about the form they're in. While Tigres have found some recent success, they struggled more than expected to put the Vancouver Whitecaps away in the semifinals, taking time to score in the home leg and conceding early in the second before closing things out. And with much of the city already buzzing about the weekend's Clasico Regio against crosstown rival Monterrey, Ferretti must keep his players focused.
"Right now, we're not thinking about what's coming up. Right now we're only thinking about Pachuca, only about Pachuca, that's how it's been all these years," said Ferretti, the long-serving Tigres boss. "It doesn't do me any good to think about Saturday if I don't know if I'm going to experience Saturday — that's my philosophy. First, I'm thinking about Pachuca."
Tigres' resurgence is genuine but tenuous, especially with questions about the right back spot as Luis Advincula recovers from injury. It will be that defender's job to stop Hirving Lozano, who despite the goal drought in league play (he was injured for some of Tuzos' skid) is the CCL leading scorer. His double against FC Dallas got Pachuca to this point — a place Tuzos have had their eye on.
"We've been getting ready for this game for practically a year. Since we won the championship and returned from vacation, we put being able to get here as the fundamental objective," Alonso said. "We've gotten here because of the players' mindset, the competitive spirit they've had during the season. We've decided to give everything to be able to get here. But time for specific preparation for Tigres, we haven't had."
Each team is loaded with talent, and while they're going in different directions in the league, each will be giving everything to get into this year's Club World Cup in Dubai. If one lets focus slip and thinks about the league, it will be that much more difficult to lift the continental crown.