Cristante conflict, poor results overshadowing Toluca's title-game rematch

Hector Vivas
The manager says his frustration with the club's directors has passed but that doesn't change the Red Devils' poor form ahead of a visit from Santos

Hernan Cristante said he had some things to sort out after Toluca's 3-2 home defeat to Leon. The loss put an end to a 15-match home undefeated run for the Red Devils, but the manager said there was more afoot than simply mistakes on the field. He needed to talk to the club's directors. Liga MX's second-longest tenured coach wasn't sure he'd stick around.

This week some things changed, but others didn't. Cristante said he had spoken out of frustration rather than considering his message. 

"I had a reaction to a bad comment. I can't disrespect absolutely anyone, and when the match ended I felt more outside the team than in it. That's what I told [Toluca sporting director] Jaime [Leon] and Francisco [Suinaga, Toluca's vice president] and it was a moment where I got heated," Cristante said Thursday at the Mexico City airport.

"I'm just the manager and it's not my place to disrespect anyone at the club. I made a mistake. Someone made a comment that wasn't appropriate or not at the appropriate time and I had an unnecessary reaction."

What hasn't changed, though, is that the team needs to turn things around. Cristante was speaking after his team's elimination from the Copa MX despite Amaury Escoto's late equalizer that somewhat saved face for Toluca in a 2-2 draw with second-division FC Juarez. It was a competition in which the Argentine largely used second-choice players, not that the coach was looking to make excuses.

"A lot of managers have rescued their jobs with the Copa. We all put importance on it, but for us it's gone, it got away," Cristante said. "It hurts, and it's a hard blow. It's a failure, and that's how we're taking it."

Cup elimination isn't the worst thing at all for Toluca, though. The team now can focus on league play with a rematch of last season's title game against Santos Laguna coming this weekend. The reigning champion carrying a five-match undefeated streak probably is not what Toluca wants to see on the back of consecutive losses.

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The Red Devils haven't been the same as they were last season. Losing Rubens Sambueza, the winger who also created the majority of the team's chances in the previous tournament, was a significant blow and a goalkeeper battle between veteran No. 1 Alfredo Talavera and 25-year-old Luis Garcia, who stepped in when Talavera was suspended, has created unnecessary friction. Changes in the middle of the field haven't helped either. Though former America midfielder William Da Silva looks to be adapting as we hit the halfway point of the season, he and Antonio Rios haven't built the same chemistry Rios had with Leonel Lopez last season. Luis Quinones has failed to step up in Sambueza's absence, with six crosses attempted and zero finding the mark against Leon, then a sending-off as a sub in the loss to Juarez marking a frustrating end to the month.

A win over Santos would be a big boost, not only putting Toluca firmly back in the playoff hunt but also vanquishing some of the demons from the final just a few months ago. While Toluca has struggled to match their form, Santos is outpacing their start to the last season despite missing a number of key players and seeing their manager head for the door. After this weekend, a winnable spell comes up for Toluca with trips to Veracruz and Atlas sandwiched around a home match against Necaxa. Still, a three-match losing streak is something Toluca wants to avoid.

Tolcua isn't one of Liga MX's four grandes, but it's a proud club with one of the best managers in the league. It would be a shame for Cristante to go prematurely as so many managers have before him. There's plenty of time for the team to turn things around and make a Liguilla run once again, but falling short against a strong Santos side in what has become a fortress for the club only will create more headaches for Cristante, the directors and everyone involved in the organization.