MEXICO CITY -- With the forecast calling for a 40% chance of rain, it was not at all surprising to see street vendors out in full force with makeshift ponchos and umbrella hats. With the match fast approaching, the majority of those wearing yellow at the Estadio Azul were actually home team fans in the aforementioned ponchos. Despite all the lip service given earlier that week by manager Miguel Herrera, it was quite clear that Club America fans were in the marked minority. An injury to regular right back Paul Aguilar proved crucial, as sub Miguel Layun took his spot in the starting lineup and turned in a subpar performance.
Despite going four years without a win at the Estadio Azul, the venue for Thursday's first leg of Club America's Liga MX final against Cruz Azul (10 p.m. ET, ESPN2/ESPNDeportes/ESPN3/Watch ESPN, confidence reigns at America as the team searches for its 11th league title and first since 2005, when Estudiantes Tecos was routed 7-4 over the home-and-away series. “Worried about Cruz Azul? No, I'm worried as to whether we're champions or not. It doesn't matter who our next opponent is,” a defiant Jesus Molina said after practice on Monday.
MEXICO CITY – Club America players, management and fans got a full evening to celebrate the team's triumph in the Liga MX semifinals over Monterrey. It was, after all, revenge coolly exacted on a squad that had so cruelly denied them in the recent past and ripped the national spotlight away from the ten-time league champions. On Sunday morning, it's all business with the knowledge that a quick turnaround is needed before the final's first leg kicks off this Thursday. One more time. One last time.
MEXICO CITY -- Doom and gloom going into a crucial match is not usually a characteristic associated with Club America fans. Pessimism and constant second-guessing however, has become a staple of this Clausura 2013 season. Blessed with one of the best squads in recent memory, a cogent, serious backroom staff and a manager whose time paying dues seems to be coming to a close, making the league final should have seemed like a formality, not an epic journey. However, what now seems like a foregone conclusion has been riddled with doubt for months.
Club America survived 180 intense minutes in Mexico City against rivals Pumas to stamp their ticket through to the Liga MX semifinals in the Clausura 2013 tournament. With Monterrey on the horizon, a team that has long frustrated their progress in the playoffs, Miguel Herrera will need to focus on the following to keep his former team at bay and secure just his second tournament final as a manager in his decade-long career. 1. Keep the ball away from Humberto Suazo Easier said than done. The Chilean superstar has dropped back in Monterrey's attacking formation to become a number 10 of sorts, leaving Aldo de Nigris up front as the team's only set striker and partnering up with Cesar Delgado to pull the strings.
After a rousing 180 minute series against crosstown rivals Pumas last week, Club America escaped with an aggregate 3-1 victory, staggering through a second leg that saw them in danger of being eliminated before Christian Benitez completed a rousing comeback with yet another brace. This week, Miguel Herrera will head back to Monterrey, where the manager tasted his first Liga MX final when he was head of the Rayados, before bowing out to Toluca in a still-controversial match for Monterrey fans. As Club America boss, Herrera has seen his team bounced out in two straight semifinals, with his former team to blame exactly a year ago.
As the Liga MX Clausura quarterfinals get underway Wednesday night, second-seeded Club America will be expected to once again stamp their authority on local rivals Pumas in the first leg, just weeks after a rousing regular season match at the Estadio Azteca yielded a 1-0 win. “The first thing I’m sure of is that it will be spectacular,” said confident America manager Miguel Herrera. With most America fans would be more than happy with a win of any kind, the promise of fireworks seems to be, quite frankly, superfluous.
Carlos Bacca is a rising star for Colombia. A nation that has produced some serious talent on offense of late boasts a crowded strikeforce and offensive midfield. Radamel Falcao, James Rodriguez, Jackson Martinez, Juan Cuadrado, Teo Gutierrez and Luis Muriel all fight for spots on a consistent basis along with Bacca, the 26-year-old who has scored 30 goals this season for Club Brugge in Belgium. If anything, Bacca should be on the shortlist for several European teams trying to climb onto the Colombian bandwagon.
A 1-0 win over Pumas was enough to give America its first sweep of its three biggest rivals for the first time since 1997. Tigres, the Liga MX league leader, sits just three points above Miguel Herrera's team with two matches remaining. A fortnight from now, those same Tigres will visit the Estadio Azteca in the regular season finale. Already with a playoff place in hand with the win on Saturday, the Mexico City giants point to a different objective with the sandglass on the Clausura 2013 running out: home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
With Club America leading San Luis 1-0 in the 88th minute of a somewhat tense and yet dominant performance by the Mexico City giants, manager Miguel Herrera decided to give Ecuador international Narciso Mina a runout in favor of fellow countryman and two-time tournament top scorer, Christian Benitez. A look of stupefaction emerged on Benitez's face, and the striker decided to sprint directly to the locker room instead of heading back to the home bench and shaking hands with Mina or Herrera. The intrigue was instant.
Since Rubens Sambueza came on as a substitute and later hobbled off the pitch in a 1-1 draw against Morelia March 8, America has adopted the same position, hobbling to five draws and a win. The victory, a 2-0 Clasico win over Chivas March 31, was punctuated by the Goats' own injury woes, with manager Benjamin Galindo exhausting his three substitutions due to various knocks picked up by Guadalajara stars Marco Fabian, Hector Reynoso and Jorge Enriquez, not to mention right back Sergio Perez's sending off after about a half-hour.
This week, while attending the latest Club America press conference, I noticed a trend developing among my fellow reporters. After a couple of standard issue questions regarding the team's next opponent and requesting a health update or two, the inevitable locker room query is hurled like a Molotov cocktail. Adrian Aldrete, the sometimes Mexico national team left back and America starter, was the target Wednesday, as he stopped his car begrudgingly as reporters surrounded it. "That's just gossip.