Manuel Veth –
The wait is over Liga MX will finally return on Friday. Friday night will see two double headers with Monarcas hosting Monterrey and Cruz Azul travelling to play against Club Tijuana. Meanwhile newly promoted Lobos BUAP will play their first Liga MX game in the club’s history on Saturday against Santos Laguna.
Founded in 1930, as Preparatoria, Lobos BUAP is one of several Liga MX teams that have their origins as a university club. Borrowing somewhat from the sports system in the United States some professional teams in Mexican football were founded as part of universities to provide academic athletics for the student body.
The most prominent examples of such teams are Tigres de la Universidad Autónoma de Nuevo León, better known as Tigres UANL, and Club Universidad Nacional A. C., which are commonly known as Pumas de la UNAM. Both Pumas and Tigres belong to the top clubs in Liga MX.
Whereas Pumas are still owned and operated by UNAM, although the club is completely professional and no longer uses student players, Tigres have somewhat become independent from UANL. Following Tigres’ relegation in 1996 the university signed over the administration of the team to CEMEX. CEMEX now runs the team via the trust-holder Sinergia Deportivo.
Lobos BUAP Remain a Part of the University
Club de Fútbol Lobos de la Benemérita Universidad Autónoma de Puebla, remain an integral component of the university. It was not even until 1966 that the club officially joined the Mexican league pyramid. Back then the club played under the name Preparatoria, but without a real professional structure, the club struggled and then folded in 1971.
Instead, the club’s former local rival Puebla FC rose through the ranks and became the dominant club of the city. There were then attempts to bring back professional football to the university campus. In the mid-1990s several investors tried to buy a franchise in the Segunda División de Mexico.
BUAP envisioned a club that was not unlike the university teams in the United States. Playing against other professional teams BUAP would focus on varsity athletics and only allow players to play for the club that attended the university. The club began to play in the 1997 season, but the plan to use students for the first squad failed, and BUAP folded after just three years due to poor performances.
It was only after the university itself underwent a change in leadership in 2002 that the club was finally put on a healthy footing. With the help of Alberto, Ventosa Coghlan Lobos BUAP secured a partnership deal with the Liga MX side Necaxa. The change meant that the club no longer relied on university students to field a squad.
Similar to Pumas, where the university is the owner, but the club is not a varsity team, Lobos BUAP finally became an integral member of the Primera A and later the Ascenso MX (the second division in Mexico).
For a Long Time, Lobos was a Typical Ascenso MX Side
In fact, Lobos BUAP became an average second division club that regularly qualified for the Liguilla (playoffs). The club, however, never came close to promotion and even last season it seemed unlikely that Lobos would go up.
Typical for Mexican football promotion from the Ascenso MX to Liga MX is a bit more complicated than in other leagues. Like the Liga MX the Ascenso MX is split into two seasons, the Apertura (opening season) and Clausura (closing season). In both the Apertura and Clausura clubs have to play each other once before the eight top teams qualify for the Liguilla.
The team that wins the Liguilla then qualifies for the Promotion Final where the two separate winners of the Apertura and Clausura play each other for the right to be promoted to the Liga MX. Should a club win both the Apertura and the Clausura, the Promotion Final is cancelled, and that club is automatically promoted.
Lobos BUAP failed to qualify for the Apertura playoffs, however, finishing 15th during the regular season. The Liguilla was then won by Sinaloa—a club that was by many identified as one of the teams that could be promoted at the end of the season.
Lobos BUAP then somewhat recovered from their poor Apertura season and finished sixth in the Clausura. Having reached the playoffs, the club felt that they had done the minimum to satisfy the fans and the shareholders.
What happened next, however, was remarkable. In the quarterfinals, Lobos BUAP eliminated Oaxaca 2-1 on aggregate. They then moved on to beat Zacatecas 6-2 on aggregate in the semi-finals and then won the Clausura by defeating a highly touted FC Juárez side.
Lobos Shocked Sinaloa in the Promotion Final
The result meant that Lobos BUAP not only won their first ever title, but the club now also had the right to play in the Promotion Final against the Dorados from Sinaloa. Having been relegated from the Liga MX in 2016, the Dorados were keen to end their time in the Ascenso MX and go straight back up to Mexico’s top flight.
Dorados had previously been promoted in 2004 as well as 2015 and with an experienced international side were the clear cut favourites to go up. But Lobos BUAP were on the run and after having won the Clausura had the momentum on their side.
The Mexican league system often means that clubs that have won the Apertura somewhat take to the foot of the pedal in the second half of the season. This was not the case with Sinaloa, who finished the Clausura regular season in second place and were only eliminated in the semi-finals of the Liguilla by Juárez.
Lobos BUAP, however, won the first match of the Promotion Final at home at Puebla thanks to a goal by Amaury Escoto in the 23rd minute. The two goals by BUAP meant that Sinaloa had to beat Lobos BUAP by two goals in the second leg and it appeared that they were going to do just that when Moisés Velasco and Gabriel Hachen gave them a 2-0 lead in the first 29 minutes. But Lobos stormed back. First Diego Jiménez scored in the 36th minute and then Escoto was once again the hero when he scored in the 41st minute. 2-2 meant that the Dorados had to beat Lobos 4-2.
With Lobos shutting down shop, however, it was next to impossible for Sinaloa to get back into the match. As a result, Lobos managed their first ever promotion to the Liga MX without ever having to finish first during the regular season. Given the way Lobos have managed to get to Liga MX it is therefore without a doubt that they will be the biggest outsiders in the top flight this season. That said Mexican football is always good for surprises, and it would therefore not be a major shock if Lobos can hold their own in Liga MX after all.
Manuel Veth is a freelance journalist and social media junior editor at Bundesliga.com. He is also a holder of a Doctorate of Philosophy in History from King’s College London, and his thesis is titled: “Selling the People’s Game: Football’s transition from Communism to Capitalism in the Soviet Union and its Successor States,” which will be available in print soon. Originally from Munich, Manuel has lived in Amsterdam, Kyiv, Moscow, Tbilisi, London, and currently is located in Victoria BC, Canada. Follow Manuel on Twitter @ManuelVeth.