Alan Pulido limped off at halftime with Chivas and Necaxa tied at 1-1 Saturday night. The forward had earlier finished off an excellent move started by Javier Lopez but now he could hardly walk much less run. In the Apertura, Chivas would've been sunk.
Instead, the work the club's directors did in the winter paid off. Ronaldo Cisneros, a 20-year-old signed from Santos Laguna in the offseason, cleaned up a goalmouth mess for his debut goal for the Rebano Sagrado. Rodolfo Cota, the goalkeeper who was set to leave the club and return to Pachuca but eventually was brought back to Guadalajara, made a critical save in the 74th minute to stop Carlos Gonzalez from doubling his total on the night. Edwin Hernandez added a third from a free kick that deflected off a Necaxa player and Chivas took a 3-1 victory back home.
Matias Almeyda said earlier the week that he'd asked for three more signings that didn't come through. Chivas do have plenty of weaknesses, but those are being addressed. The lack of depth that saw injuries force the team to limp to a 13th-place finish doesn't feel as significant.
Pulido and Cisneros both left because of injuries, but Lopez and Carlos Cisneros have thus far created goals. Michael Perez's injury curtails the options in the central midfield, but Rodolfo Pizarro performed well next to Orbelin Pineda on Saturday rather than his normal role further forward. And at center back, where Jair Periera injury updates can be a permanent fixture in Guadalajara newspapers and Carlos Salcido often shows his age, Oswaldo Alanis is getting closer and closer to a return after his contract dispute in the offseason.
Don't get me wrong, whatever signings Almeyda had in mind definitely would've helped. His comments last week seemed ominous, as the Argentine has been in demand in his home country since winning the league and the cup with Chivas in the 2017 Clausura. Chivas needed to do more this winter than sign a couple of promising players from Santos Laguna and bring back Cota if they wanted to lift trophies again. Tigres, Monterrey and America have done too much since then to be able to almost stand pat. But four points through three weeks is a good enough return for the club to get back into the Liguilla and at least have a chance.
The depth will be needed as Chivas look to do more than just get back to respectable form in the league. The club is in the CONCACAF Champions League for the first time since 2012-13 when it failed to advance out of the group stage thanks to a defeat to Guatemalan side Xelaju. Reports from Guadalajara on Monday indicate Pulido's injury isn't serious and Perez may be set to rejoin the squad this weekend. Chivas can once again be respectable on two fronts if players are able to stay healthy.
Strangely, the biggest issue may be how the team performs at home. There is nearly always an 'invasion' of Chivas fans to welcome the club into normally difficult road atmospheres. In the true home comforts of the Estadio Chivas, though, Almeyda's team has struggled. Of the eight teams that made the Liguilla last tournament, just Leon had more than two home defeats. Chivas lost four times at home last tournament and took all three points just once. Chivas already has one home defeat this year, a demoralizing capitulation to Cruz Azul. This weekend brings an even tougher opponent.
Monterrey travels to the Estadio Chivas fresh off a first-place regular season finish last tournament. This time around, the frustration of not winning a title looks to be hanging over Rayados, but they're a better team than the Necaxa squad Chivas brushed aside Saturday.
A strong performance from Chivas' attack gives enthusiasm that things will be different than the Apertura, but Chivas must figure out a way to win at home to make sure last season was simply an aberration and that its current squad is good enough to compete.