Getting to the finals for America: a mere formality or epic journey?

Posted by Eric Gomez

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 beat Monterrey 2-1 at the Estadio Azteca this Saturday, in front of near-packed house that witnessed the usual blend of drama, controversy and excitement en route to another home win.

Needing only a draw (at zero, one or two) to make it through, they staggered through the first 45 minutes of play with the usual formula: dominate proceedings, miss clear-cut chances and open the door for a reaction from the opposing team. At the halftime whistle, Monterrey manager Victor Manuel Vucetich coyly smiled towards the locker room. In his illustrious career, the three-time CONCACAF Champions League winner had never lost a semifinal in the Liga MX.

History and subtle optimism for Monterrey would take a back seat in the second half. An iffy penalty called on Jose Basanta (an Argentine national teamer, no less) set up Raul Jimenez's penalty kick goal in the second half, meaning Monterrey needed two goals in the last half hour or so to stun America. It would become three goals, when Christian Benitez tucked away a shot off a massive individual run close to the death.

Aldo de Nigris pulled Monterrey's only goal back in injury time, but the result had been apparent for quite some time. By pulling away from Monterrey, a team that had victimized them twice in the playoffs since 2010, America stamped its ticket to the final for the first time since 2007. What doesn’t seem like too long ago becomes a little farther away when the realization that Cuauhtemoc Blanco, Salvador Cabanas and Memo Ochoa were that particular team’s stars.

Awaiting Cruz Azul (who amassed a 3-0 aggregate score line in the first 90 minutes against Santos) for what will be one of the most awaited finals in the league’s history, America will either put a deliciously sweet cherry on top of an unlikely sundae of a season, or will part with what could possibly be considered the most bitter letdown in the team's 96-year existence.

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