Las Aguilas won their 13th title Sunday, putting them above rival Chivas after a deserved win over La Maquina
Club America is el mas grande. The biggest team in Mexico. The best team in Mexico. After Sunday night’s 2-0 victory over Cruz Azul no one can deny it.
Drawing up a better week for America fans would be difficult. America moved past Chivas with 13 professional titles to stand alone at the summit. It happened the same weekend that the women’s team lifted the Liga MX Femenil trophy – and the same weekend in which Chivas flopped on the international stage with a loss to Kashima Antlers.
America manager Miguel Herrera denied that there was anything extra sweet about moving past Chivas in the all-time table, pointing to the titles his team, the women’s side and the U-17s had won as reason enough to celebrate. Fans of his team may feel differently.
“It feels good before the team won, because you got another title, because you’re doing things well, because in one weekend three teams in the club won titles,” he said. “It’s nice. We have a great group that work at the club, from the top down.”
It was two goals from Edson Alvarez, a defensive midfielder who also plays center back, that put Las Aguilas over the top and set off celebrations in the heart of Mexico City and all over the continent. This time Alvarez’s tears after the competition will be of joy, unlike the ones that fell from his eyes after Mexico’s loss in the final group match of the World Cup. Alvarez had scored in the wrong goal in that game. Now the 21-year-old is a champion.
Alvarez will remember one of former Mexico national team manager Juan Carloso Osorio’s favorite phrases, “You have to play for the love of winning and not for the fear of losing.” Cruz Azul looked like it was more scared to lose than hungry to win.
Pedro Caixinha’s conservative approach in Thursday’s first leg, a scoreless draw, was totally understandable. After all, there were 90 more minutes to be played in front of a pro-Cruz Azul crowd. La Maquina’s defense was the best in the league this season. Why not rely on it in the first game and take the chains off the machine in the second?
Except when Caixinha’s lineup came out, it was clear he was still playing it safe. Roberto Alvarado was dropped to the bench after a strong first leg as the team opted for a 4-4-2. It was the only time in the playoffs the team played with a pair of forwards up top, and they didn’t take to the system.
By no surprise, taking off one of the team’s best chance-creaters resulted in fewer chances. Alvarado was back on the field for the second half with him and Elias Hernandez producing the chances the team had to score.
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“We knew it was going to be tough. The first leg already was very physical. They’re a team that always is really well set-up (defensively) and today wasn’t the exception,” America midfielder Guido Rodriguez said after the contest. “We knew that at some point the game would have to open up and luckily it fell in our favor.”
Perhaps the irony is that America was able to find its first breakthrough thanks to a moment of spontaneous aggression from Cruz Azul. Goalkeeper Jesus Corona tried to play a goal kick quickly to Ivan Marcone. The Argentine didn’t look ready for the pass, and Oribe Peralta’s pressure allowed the forward to take the ball off Marcone’s foot. With Cruz Azul’s defense still trying to figure out what happened, Peralta moved the ball to Alvarez, who smashed in the winning goal.
Even after that, there wasn’t the response needed from Cruz Azul. Hernandez made some things happen individually, but ultimately the team’s weakness all season – scoring – came back to haunt it when it mattered the most.
America deserved its title win, with Miguel Herrera finding a way to engineer a title Sunday even missing midfielder Mateus Uribe and forward Roger Martinez after their first-leg injuries. In Martinez’s place, Peralta started, and while the 34-year-old didn’t find the back of the net, he outwitted fellow veteran Corona on the play that led to the opening goal, lending a bit of wile to the America lineup that it needed.
Peralta and Herrera have further solidified their places in the history of the club with another title, and America has further solidified its place at the top of Mexican football.