PACHUCA, Mexico -- It didn't take long for Keisuke Honda to impress in Liga MX. It took exactly 15 minutes on the field for him to score his first goal on Mexican soil. And it was a phenomenal play, where Honda's speed and shooting accuracy shone. He waited a long time for this moment, and his debut came right as Pachuca has revived its identity. The attacking essence that has characterized the club over the past two years is back on track.
"I did feel frustrated because I couldn't play for a month," Honda said after Pachuca's 4-1 win over Veracruz. "But finally I could join the team, and I was so excited when I came off the bench to get my first minutes."
The final score could have included more goals for Pachuca, but manager Diego Alonso had to juggle his lineup due to a rash of injuries. Erick Aguirre, Edson Puch, Angelo Sagal, Erick Gutierrez and Jonathan Urretaviscaya all left Estadio Hidalgo with some type of injury -- minor or major. However, the team never quit on giving a show to the almost 24,000 fans who came to the stadium.
"Today's game carried the same trend the team showed against Tigres, where it recuperated its style," said Alonso. "We're a team that always presses intensely, we have fast players up top, and we have quality in every position of the field. What we saw tonight is what the team has offered since [Alonso's coaching staff] arrived.
"Even when we had nine players because Urretaviscaya stepped off the field injured and Gutierrez kept playing through injury, the team continued doing great things on the field, so just imagine the ambition that these footballers have."
When Honda was on the field, Pachuca's injury issues weren't even noticeable because the Japanese superstar made it look simple. What Tuesday night's performance proved was that Honda's transition period is moving swiftly.
"As you know, I cannot speak Spanish that well, so I'm studying Spanish so we can understand each other," explained Honda when asked about how he was communicating with Alonso and his teammates. "But one of Alonso's assistant coaches [Argentine Claudio Arzeno] speaks Spanish and English, so he's helping me on and off the field.
"Also, Omar Gonzalez is helping me a lot when I don't understand what my teammates want, or what Diego [Alonso] wants out from me. [Gonzalez] is always there for me."
Before kickoff, Honda came out of the tunnel and walked toward the benches. As he made the walk and hundreds of fans were shouting his name, Gonzalez was right beside him.
Honda's contributions to Pachuca should be immense, especially considering that he's enjoying the training sessions with Alonso. He has enjoyed the team camaraderie, and by the way he moved on the field against Veracruz, it was evident that he likes Pachuca's playing style.
Alonso expects Honda to be one of the best footballers in Liga MX, but what he admires the most about Pachuca's No. 2 is how great of a human being he is. "Hopefully [Honda can become one of the best footballers in Liga MX], he has a vast skill set that should allow him to give a lot to the team.
"He has a lot to give to Mexican football, and he's an elite footballer, so hopefully he can give us a lot," Alonso continued. "We're excited about having him, but mostly we're excited because he's a great human being, and that makes it so much easier for the group, and the players.
"His attitude gives us tranquility and, yeah, he scored a goal in his debut. But we have to be patient because his adaptation period won't be easy, and we have to be patient so he can little by little become a great player in the league."
Pachuca is set to travel to Tijuana and play against Xolos, who are coming off back-to-back wins. Unfortunately, the number of injuries after the Veracruz win will test Alonso and his coaching staff's ability to field a strong XI for Pachuca's upcoming visit. Honda could potentially get more than 30 minutes of playing time. After the game, it's more than likely Honda will have to pack his bags and head with the Japanese national team to compete in the next round of World Cup qualifying games.