We’re embarking on club 7 on this journey, so we thought a few bookmarks for previous teams along the way might be helpful. Feel free to begin the Aventuras Américas journey at the job hunt stage, club 1 Puerto Montt, club 2 Universidad Católica, club 3 New York Red Bulls, club 4 River Plate Montevideo, club 5 América de Cali or club 6 Alianza Lima.
A season of surprising amounts of success on all fronts saw Robinho Lazaró on the move for the second time in a year. This time around, he had a different kind of challenge as he headed to México with Puebla FC.
That’s because Puebla are in the second tier of Méxican football, the Expansion League, having been relegated from the top tier last season. And, despite being overwhelming favourites for the league, they only finished 11th out of 18 teams in the league’s opening stage.
Who are Puebla FC?
Club Puebla is based in the city of Puebla, which is the fourth-largest in México, is around 80 miles south-east of México City, and is also known as Puebla de Zaragoza, Puebla de los Ángeles and Cuetlaxcoapan, which intriguingly means “where serpents change their skin.” The club has no fierce rivalries but a historic rivalry with México City giants Club América – which was a bit awkward as they were one of Lazaró’s favoured clubs – as well as local sides Tiburones Rojos de Veracruz and Lobos de la BUAP.
Puebla FC, also known as La Franja, or “the striped ones,” was founded in 1904 by English ex-pats and is well-known for its distinctive diagonally striped kits (which we’ve been a little creative with in the custom kits below). The club is a two-time champion of Mexico’s Liga MX back in 1983 and 1990 along with five Copa MX wins, of which the most recent was in 2015, and one North American Champions Cup in 1991.
Puebla plays at the 50,754 all-seater Estadio Cuahtémoc, which was rebuilt in 2015 and looks pretty damn impressive. They also have excellent training and youth facilities but only average youth recruitment.
Hilariously, when the club was relegated in 1999 its owners went out and purchased the promoted team! It’s been up and down the first two tiers since then, but through this save it’s mainly been down in the Expansion League.
Lazaró’s new board expect him to win the upcoming Expansion League Closing Stage. No pressure then!
Meet the Puebla FC squad
Lazaró walked into a pretty dire situation with a lot of players wanting out of Puebla since the club was relegated. That included their best player centre-back Edilson Rivas, who has an active release clause, and striker Ramón Rodríguez, who’d been transfer-listed. Other key players are attacking midfielder and captain Leonardo Palacios, former Vélez striker Alexander Ferrari and defender Pedro Pena.
While the best prospects at the club are 6ft 4in 17-year-old midfielder Francisco Parra, left-winger Omar Hernández and 16-year-old right-winger Arturo Garza.
Lazaró decided to allow any unhappy players to leave and quickly rebuild the squad. He sold eight players in his first week for a profit of around £500,000 then moved to replace them with young prospects. That included exciting full-back Gerardo González for £150,000 from Raya and centre-back Héctor Enrique Ferreira for £180,000 from Pumas Tabasco. Annoyingly, halfway through the league stage, a load of MLS and Brazilian clubs moved for Rivas and he joined Athletico Paranaense for £825,000.
Lazaró decided to go with another completely new formation, this time a 4-3-1-2, which he tested in a random cup game. And it started well with a 3-3 at Liga MX side Santos Laguna led by a Ferrari double.
Into the Mexican Expansion League
Lazaró’s propensity to focus on youth was a great fit for the Mexican Expansion League, for which teams can only register eight players aged over 24 and five who aren’t Mexican-born. And, in an exciting/scary twist, Puebla are runaway favourites to win the league at a massive 1/91! The nearest to that is Atlético San Luis at 11/4. The league also has one of the most bizarre rules around, with teams earning an extra point for away wins in their first eight away wins!
Lazaró’s reign began at Cimarrones and started in style as Ferrari scored inside 11 minutes. That set them up to dominate led by a quickfire double from brilliantly named midfielder Sebastián Pérez Bouquet before Ferrari also doubled his tally. They conceded twice but Lazaró was happy with their start. 38,000 fans flocked to see Lazaró for the first time and witnessed a wild 5-2 win at home to Cafetaleros, in which Ferrari again bagged a brace!
A first clean sheet followed with a 1-0 win at Leones Negros, thanks to a bizarre Alek Álvarez strike that hit the bar, bounced two feet in front of the goalline and span back in! But a first defeat soon followed despite dominating second-place Atlante at home.
They recovered well from that with four straight wins, including a Ferrari hat-trick in a 3-1 win at Alebrijes de Oaxaca that took him to 20 goals for the season (including the opening stage). However, he then got injured and without him Puebla looked goal-shy in a 1-0 loss at Zitácuaro. They fired back to race into a 3-0 lead at Correcaminos UAT, with Ferreira getting his first goal for the club, before the dodgy defence and goalkeeper let in two more goals. But that was followed by a dominant 4-1 win at home to Tampico Madero.
Ferrari returned to score and grab an assist in a 3-0 win at home to Dorados de Sinaloa then bagged a brace in a 4-0 hammering of Pumas Tabasco. That helped Puebla dominate the closing stage, winning it by 17 points from Atlante after winning 15 and losing two of their 17 games.
Expansion Closing Stage
Puebla then had to navigate a two-legged knockout phase that was essentially a brand new cup competition for promotion. That began with a quarter-final against Pumas Tabasco, in which they won the away leg 2-1 then dominated the second leg but drew 1-1 to just about seal progression.
That teed up a semi-final with Leones Negros in which they nicked the away leg 1-0 with a cheeky Ferrari chip. Palacios scored his first from open play after 27 minutes of the second leg before Bouquet doubled the lead nine minutes later. However, their defence fell apart as the visitors scored two goals in a minute then leaked a third to make things interesting. But Parra hit a delicious late winner to guarantee their place in the final.
The final saw Puebla take on Cimarrones, with the away leg again up first. They made a flying start as centre-back Aldair Áviles headed home the opener only for the hosts to swiftly equalise. And the poor defnece again showed up to lose a relatively tight game 2-1. Lazaró laid into los chicos to fire them up for the second leg and it worked as they again started well with Ferrari bagging a brace inside 32 minutes. The star striker wrapped up his hat-trick after the break to seal a 4-1 win that wrapped up the Mexican Expansion League Closing Stage!
Ferrari finished as the top scorer in the league with a record 29 goals, which was nine more than his nearest challenger. He also claimed a league-high 7.50 average rating and eight player of the match awards. While Pérez Bouquet had the most assists in the league with 16 followed by Rodríguez’s 13.
Just when Lazaró thought promotion was confirmed… Puebla then had to compete in the Champions Trophy against Opening Stage winners Pumas Tabasco. The away leg was again first up and they started well as Pérez Bouquet fired home a screamer. But a tired team didn’t really perform and Pumas got back into it with a deserved equaliser late on.
That teed up a cracking second leg, in which Puebla twice led only to allow the visitors back into it, including an 84th-minute equaliser to send the game to extra-time. Ferrari then got injured but his replacement César Munoz became the unlikely hero as he cooly finished a one-on-one. But Puebla should have had the match won well before then, hitting the woodwork five times and racking up 3.57 xG.
Did that finally seal promotion? Lazaró wasn’t too sure whether he could celebrate too much yet… but eventually yes, it was confirmed, Puebla were promoted to Liga MX!
Ferrari set a new club record of 32 goals and 29 league goals in a season, while Pérez Bouquet set a new assists record with 18. Ferrari won fans’ player of the season, Rodríguez was young player of the season and Ferreira was signing of the season.
Rodríguez also impressed with 12 goals and 13 assists, youngster Parra scored six goals and got two assists, midfielder Eduardo Torres scored five and got 10 assists and Palacios, who’s retraining as an attacking midfielder, scored four and got nine assists. While only six of the 20-man squad didn’t average a 7.00 or higher.
Join us next time to discover how Robinho Lazaró goes about strengthening his Puebla FC side for the step up to Liga MX!