Puebla FC Step Back from the Brink

In the last year, Puebla has faced bankruptcy, relocation and the threat of relegation
by Brendan Doherty   |   Friday, February 22, 2013

 MEX Matters - column on Liga MX, El Tri & Mexican futbol.

For many American soccer fans, Puebla FC is known only as the current home of DaMarcus Beasley, just one of a number of stops in the winger's long career.

For five months in 2012, I also called the city of Puebla, Mexico, home and witnessed much of the turmoil surrounding the future of the club fans affectionately call La Franja (referring to the traditional strip across the team's jersey). Not long after Beasley arrived in eastern Mexico, the club found itself in hot water with the Tax Administration Service and, at the end of Apertura 2012, had to deal with the possibility of relegation from Liga MX.

Relegation

Mexican soccer has a relegation system based not on one season's performance, such as England and most of Europe, but rather on the last 3 full-seasons. Liga MX operates two short tournaments (torneos) during every calendar year, the Apertura in the fall and the Clausura in the spring. The team with the lowest points per game average over the previous 6 torneos is then relegated to the Ascenso MX, the second division.

The relegation decision is made after the end of each Clausura. Going into the new torneo, Puebla FC knew it would need a near miraculous run of form to avoid contention for the drop zone. La Franja's total points haul over the previous 5 torneos was 91; San Luis had 98, while Atlas and Queretaro brought up the rear with just 80 points each. Before Clausura 2013 started, Puebla was precariously sitting in 16th out of the 18 Liga MX teams for the relegation race.

In the previous torneo, Apertura 2012, Puebla FC only earned 13 points from 17 games. Currently 7 games into Clausura 2013, the team already has as many wins (3) and is only two points shy of meeting the points total from the last tournament.

Money Problems

In Jan. 2012, shortly after I arrived in Mexico, government officials came to Estadio Cuauhtémoc to collect on unpaid taxes. According to Grant Wahl, Puebla FC owed the government as much as $1 million USD. In addition to taking over the lease for the stadium, Beasley announced over Twitter that officials from the government seized everything from electronics to weight-room equipment to the team's bus. Beasley also noted to Wahl that Puebla FC players had not been paid for the month of December 2011.

Puebla's financial difficulties sparked a popular rumor in Mexico that the team would disband or the struggling but still historic franchise from Puebla would be relocated to Acapulco. Around the same time, several online editions of newspapers reported an offer from the governor of the state of Guerrero (of which Acapulco is the largest city) to the owners of Puebla FC to move the team. Incentives included tax breaks, increased public transportation on match days and subsidies to build a brand new stadium.

Certainly the speculation over the future of the team did not inspire confidence on the field as La Franja failed to make the playoffs yet again during Clausura 2012. Puebla FC has not qualified for the postseason Liguilla since Apertura 2009. Apertura 2012 was even worse as Puebla only registered 3 wins from 17 games. This torneo is a different story however.

Clausura 2013 could be a breakout year

Puebla FC has been buoyed by strong performances from Felix Borja (the club's leading scorer this campaign), Beasley and the team's defense.

Goalkeeper Alexandro Alvarez almost single handedly preserved Puebla's position late in a game against Santos Laguna. Beasley bagged himself a brace as a second half substitute against San Luis. Puebla's centerback pairing of Jonathan Lacerda and Jesus Chavez has been much more consistent than the team has had in a few seasons.

The most important player for the team right now is Borja. After spending Apertura 2012 without a true goal scorer, the club brought the former Puebla forward back to the team. Since returning to Puebla, Borja has been on remarkable form. Representative of the fire within the whole team, Borja has 5 goals in the 7 games so far this season and Puebla hasn't lost when the Ecuadorian scores.

Currently Atlante, Puebla, San Luis, Atlas and Queretaro are all mathematically at risk of facing relegation this season. But if Atlas (3rd place) and Puebla (6th place) can ride out their current runs of form, they could coast in safety.

Puebla FC is the definition of a resurgent team and at this rate look likely to make the playoffs for the first time in seven torneos.

Brendan DOHERTY

Nationality:
USA
College:
Hamilton College
Club Domestic:
Rochester Rhinos, RBNY
Club Foreign:
Tottenham, Club América
Household Jeopardy champion from a small town in Upstate New York. Simultaneously brought to Tottenham Hotspur by a youth coach & given a copy of FIFA 2004. Enthusiastically pragmatic & a student of the game. Covering the Mexican National Team & Liga MX.
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