By: Kyle McCarthy
Mexico will once again turn its attention toward the capital as the Liguilla semifinals conclude over the weekend.
If everything unfolds according to plan, then the attention will remain there through the conclusion of the final next weekend. Club América (2-2 at Monterrey on Wednesday) and Cruz Azul (3-0 at Santos Laguna on Thursday) submitted assured displays away from home to place themselves into position to progress with similar performances in the second leg.
América faces the trickier of the two challenges with Monterrey still in the tie after the stalemate at Estadio Tecnológico. It isn’t beyond Victor Manuel Vucetich’s side to engineer the required victory (or a draw of 3-3 or greater, though that result hardly seems likely) in this decisive affair, nor is it out of the realm of possibility for América to buckle under the weight of the heavy expectations.
The first leg, however, suggested America possesses the right mix to unsettle the CONCACAF Champions League holders again at Estadio Azteca on Saturday night (6:00p.m. ET). Christian Benítez scored twice in Monterrey to place his side in this promising position, but the work of his teammates exposed the defensive frailty of the opposition time and time again. Vucetich must find some way to shore up his error-prone rearguard (and the return of Jonathan Orozco between the sticks will help) in order to give Aldo de Nigris and Humberto Suazo (scorer of a fantastic free kick in the first leg) a chance to turn the tie.
Santos travels to Estadio Azul with little hope of consummating a similar revival act after the defeat in Torreón on Thursday. Cruz Azul’s rampant performance at Estadio Corona means Pedro Caixinha’s side must score at least four times on Sunday night (9:00p.m. ET) to maintain its hopes of a place in the final. It is a brief likely beyond Santos given the adjustments required to secure the result.
Cruz Azul thrived in the first leg by encouraging Santos to push forward and then eviscerating them on the counter. The balance of play in the second leg should facilitate those sorts of tactics once again and provide the likes of Pablo Barrera and Teófilo Gutíerrez with ample space to explore. One goal from those forays should dispatch Santos and send La Máquina through to its first final since the 2009 Apertura.
The expected triumph could arrange a mouthwatering clash between the two Mexico City rivals (they have not met in the final since Mexico adopted the split-season model in 1996) or set up yet another opportunity for Monterrey to supplement its teeming trophy case. Either way, the focus will remain squarely upon the country’s largest city as the Liguilla reaches its apex over the next week.