Progress in attack, room for improvement

Progress in attack, room for improvement

By Alberto Urueta

Juarez opened the season this Friday at home against an Atlas FC team that finished second to last in the standings last season. Expectations were high for the game after a preseason that saw the Bravos get into a groove offensively and several players spoke of their eagerness to make up for the loss to the fans.

Statistically, the game was even in every way except for corner kicks, with Juarez only getting two compared to the visiting side’s five. The teams traded goals, with Bravos holding the lead until the 81st when Moises Mosquera fouled Eduardo Aguirre and Atlas converted a free kick. Despite the offensive improvement provided by the substitutions of Aviles Hurtado in the 65th and Aitor Garcia in the 77th, the team was unable to find that third goal to secure the victory. Together, the two accounted for 6 of the 19 goals (31.5%) scored last season.

To reiterate, the Bravos started this season with 31.5% of last year’s goals on the bench.

After the first 90 minutes of the season, the team is showing progress in attack, but there is still room for improvement in this area in all other areas.

Slow low season

After finishing 12th in the league last season, eight points behind a play-off spot, FC Bravos had a relatively quiet off-season on the player market, but managed to compensate with a solid series of public and private practice matches.

The Bravos had a busy last two weeks of June, with games against New Mexico United away on the 19th, America in El Paso on the 23rd and Deportivo Cali at home on the 29th. Juarez scored 6 goals in the three games, winning two and drawing one. The exciting, hard-fought games against America and Deportivo Cali showed that the team can compete with high-quality opponents. The four-goal performance against New Mexico United showed that the offense had theoretically improved, even without the big marquee signings.

The Juarez mid-season saw the arrival of attacker Cesar Lopez (22 years old) from Necaxa and midfielder Jonathan Gonzalez (25 years old) from Monterrey. The duo strengthens the attacking factions of Bravos, who finished with a difference of -7 in the Clausura tournament last year, scoring only 19 goals in 17 games.

Players who impressed

Angel Zaldivar started the season on fire, scoring in every preseason game for the Bravos, including twice against New Mexico United. In that game, he opened things up in a familiar fashion, finding the net from outside the penalty area after charging a defender to create space. Barbieri positions Zaldivar at the top of his 4-1-4-1 formation (or its slight variations) so that he can be the focal point of the attack, and it’s paid off.

Aviles Hurtado came into the game in the 65th minute and could create chances, but I think he would have been more productive if he had had more playing time. He got the chance to take the penalty that was awarded to the team and he took care of things.

The 25 minutes of playing time for him, and the 13 minutes or so they gave Aitor Garcia, are criminally low. The team won’t win many games if the playing time for those two stays the same. Hurtado, Zaldivar and Aitor all on the pitch at the same time is what you want, Barbieri has a way of making them fit tactically. If you don’t do that, it means the attacking power of the team decreases.

The road ahead for the Bravos is far from easy. Looking ahead, the failure to secure the three points hurts even more.

What comes next after Game One?

The upcoming matches could determine how this season ends.

Only 7,046 people attended the game at Estadio Olimpico Benito Juarez on Friday, a mere 35.7% of capacity. To gauge the spirit of the average fan, you need only look at what they say under the various Bravo Fan pages.

Fan complaints typically range from waning interest after a lackluster off-season to the high cost of season tickets and individual match tickets, making it difficult for families to attend. Combined with a generally poor quality matchday experience and a string of disappointing results in the league, many find it hard to justify spending $250 pesos (about $15, the price of the cheapest ticket).

The friendly home game against Deportivo Cali from Colombia drew around 2,000 spectators. These two games with limited crowds can and should serve as a wake-up call for the entire program. How the team responds to dropping points at home will be crucial in the coming weeks and how they play against well-formed teams with playoff experience and short rest will determine how the next six months go. The team needs to give the city a reason to come and support.

The next few weeks will set the tone for the rest of the year. Failure to strike the right tone could be disastrous.