The Mexican finals kicked off Thursday, featuring a newcomer in Club Tijuana, in its first ever Grand Final in the Liga MX.
For Tijuana’s opponent, Toluca, it was just the opposite.
In the rush to celebrate Tijuana’s accomplishments, Toluca has gotten somewhat of the short shrift in the run up to this final.
After Thursday’s night Tijuana win, it will continue to be that way for at least three more days. But even down by a goal after the away leg of the final, the Red Devil franchise deserves plenty of credit.
Over the last couple decades, Deportivo Toluca FC has proved it knows how to get to the very end of short tournaments, ever since the abbreviated tournament format was established in Mexico in 1996.
This season, the Red Devils have again shown the same quality on the field that the franchise has become known for in winning seven titles since 1996. Toluca has done it by fielding a veteran squad led by Coach Enrique Meza, who himself boasts plenty of championship level experience, with four Mexican titles to his name.
With a team built from experienced players at the national and international levels -- including Paraguayan international Edgar Benitez, Panamanian star Luis Tejada, and Mexican national teamers Zinha and Alfredo Talavera -- Toluca is a veteran group in every sense of the word.
All that experience made Toluca, which led the Apertura 2012 with 34 points, the favorite headed into the finals match up with Xolos, who were second on goal differential alone. It was close again on Thursday in Tijuana, with the locals coming out on top 2-1.
Come Sunday, Toluca takes the field needing a win to secure its eleventh title as a club, which would draw the Red Devils level with Chivas de Guadalajara on the all-time Mexican list. The majority of those triumphs have come in short tournaments: In the decade and a half since the short tournament format was introduced, Toluca has reaped seven of its ten titles, closing in on Chivas, which has won two in that same span.
Toluca has been crowned in the Verano 1998, Verano 1999, Verano 2000, the Apertura 2002, 2005, and 2008, and most recently following the Bicentenario 2010.
Now, the Red Devils are out for another title, after a two year post season absence following their last crown. If Toluca is back in the title mix this season, much of the credit is due to its veteran coach, Meza, who has directed seven finals, emerging victorious on four occasions.
Meza is now coaching in his eight final, during a career that includes three titles with Toluca and another with Pachuca, as well as finals reverses with Cruz Azul, Pachuca, and Toros Neza.
If the next one comes on Sunday, it will be time to recognize not only Toluca and Meza’s part in the history of the Mexican game, but also to strongly consider whether we’re talking about the top franchise in history of Mexican football.