23
Jan

Miguel Herrera expands his horizons as Mexico prepares for Korea Republic friendly

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Mexico manager Miguel Herrera cast aside his América-centric approach and expanded his horizons ahead of the upcoming friendly with Korea Republic.

Instead of relying on his former charges to form the foundation of the national side, Herrera adopted a more inclusive stance to cobble together his 21-man squad for the one-off match in San Antonio on Wednesday. He plucked several top performers from other Liga MX sides and tempted Diego Reyes to cross the pond in the middle of the European season.

The shift away from the one-club approach marks a natural evolution for Herrera to mark the first match since he took permanent control. His brief changed from the moment Mexico qualified in Wellington in November. The expedient group compiled for that challenge does not fit the task ahead in Brazil. And now it is down to Herrera to figure out how to assemble his roster with the proper blend of domestic and foreign-based players to navigate El Tri to the knockout stages.

This brief excursion to Texas constitutes the first chance to advance toward that objective. Herrera chose these players to help him along the way:

Goalkeepers: Jesús Corona (Cruz Azul), Alfredo Talavera (Toluca)

Herrera omitted Moisés Muñoz to run the rule over Corona and Talavera to sort out the increasingly muddled chase for the number one shirt. Corona bolstered his credentials with a series of assured displays under José Manuel de la Torre during the Hexagonal, but he lost his place to Guillermo Ochoa under rather controversial circumstances and slipped down the pecking order. Talavera retained his spot in the reckoning with his performances with Toluca. At this stage, both men — assuming Muñoz and Ochoa fit into Herrera’s plans moving forward — are fighting for one spot.

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13
Dec

Liga MX Apertura Final: Leon defeats Club America in first leg clash

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Club León took a substantive step toward its sixth title with a 2-0 victory over holders Club América in the first leg of the Liga MX Apertura final on Thursday night.

Carlos Peña opened the scoring inside the opening quarter of an hour to offer León a tangible foothold from its fine first half display. América responded after the interval, but Mauro Boselli sumptuously chipped home the critical second in the final 15 minutes to secure a positive result at the Nou Camp.

The margin of victory affords León a modest cushion ahead of the second leg at Estadio Azteca on Sunday night. América possess ample motivation – the prospect of a record 12th title in Miguel Herrera’s final game in charge – to overturn the deficit. Las Águilas’ formidable home record in Mexico City offers hope of procuring the result required to claim a second championship in succession, but there is still plenty of work ahead for the holders.

Both teams will spend the next two days recovering before the return leg in the capital on Sunday. They will assess a few of the key points — including the five to follow here — as they plot their path to the summit of Mexican soccer.

1. León stamps its intent early: The home side grasped control of the first half from the outset. The back-and-forth tempo encouraged León to push numbers forward and unsettle América’s back five. América plays directly and quickly, but the cadence of the early stages moved too quickly for the holders. León used that brisk pace to create chances and eventually prompt the opening goal.

2. Peña imposes his will: Peña exposed Herrera’s decision to name both Osvaldo Martínez and Rubens Sambueza in his midfield three with his tireless industry in the center of the park. His relentless work piled pressure on América every time he touched the ball. His work on the opening goal — seeing a loose clearance from a corner kick, sprinting to the ball in front of his man and thumping it past Moisés Muñoz from the edge of the penalty area — neatly captured his considerable contributions on the evening.

3. América responds after the break: Herrera motivated his side at the interval and watched his players improve substantially at the star of the second half. By obtaining more of the ball and using it more judiciously, The visitors prevented León from turning the match into a track meet once more. The improved width and the reinforced work through the middle created opportunities. Martínez even forced a good save from the unsteady William Yarbrough on a half-volley. It just didn’t lead to the goal required to consolidate after such a promising spell.

4. Boselli punishes América for its inability to grab the equalizer: The second goal came from a typically determined Peña run through the middle. Maza Rodríguez intervened and tackled the ball straight into Boselli’s path. The former Wigan striker allowed the ball to slide all the way across his body before he clipped it neatly over Munoz for the second. His precise display of skill rescued an otherwise mundane half for León and sent the home side into a promising position.

5. León might rue the chances squandered in the final stages: América buckled in the wake of Boselli’s goal. León perked up considerably given the additional impetus. It nearly caught Muñoz out on one or two occasions, but a backward header from an unsuspecting Rodríguez glanced over the bar in the waning seconds of the game. The difference between a two-goal and a three-goal deficit is a substantial one. If América storms out as expected on Sunday evening, then León might lament its inability to kill off this tie on home soil.

12
Dec

Liga MX 2013 Apertura Final: Leon v Club America Preview

Intrigue permeates through the first leg of the Liguilla final. This spectacle hardly needs reinforcing given the attention lavished upon the battle for the Mexican title, but this pairing between Club América and Club León somehow manages the feat.

The story lines paint a picture worth following. América is poised to lift its record 12th championship and win back-to-back titles under departing manager Miguel Herrera. León is primed to intercede with its mixture of emerging talents and savvy veterans.

It is a clash of old and new with one clever twist: Herrera directed Mexico to the World Cup using a combination of core players from both teams. He integrated Rafa Márquez, Luis Montes and Carlos Peña into the base of his title-winning side to form the foundation during his interim spell in charge. The results produced a comprehensive victory over New Zealand in a two-legged World Cup playoff in November and provided a template for the upcoming trip to Brazil.

Herrera will turn his attention to El Tri’s excursion after this tie, but he must lead Las Aguilas past his future charges to fulfill his last remaining objective before he departs. The budding relationship between the involved parties adds an extra layer of familiarity to a series where every slight edge matters.

The two teams enter this affair on fairly level pegging. León’s incisive attack — fueled from midfield by Montes and Peña and topped by Mauro Boselli up front to produce 12 goals in four Liguilla matches — poses a massive threat. América leans on its direct play from back to front and its resolute defensive core (on display in the 2-0 home victory against Toluca to keep the title defense in charge) to pressure and stifle the opposition.

In a final with such narrow margins between the adversaries, the outcome could turn on Herrera’s considerable knowledge of his three national team players or their ability to probe the weaknesses of the system they implement on international duty. The first leg may not play out according to that plan, but the mere presence of those links bodes well for El Tri as Herrera finishes up his duties with América and prepares to build his squad for the World Cup.

—Images provided by Getty.

30
Nov

Liga MX Apertura Liguilla: Quarters Preview - Second Legs

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Liga MX provides higher-seeded teams with a considerable advantage at the quarterfinal stage of the Liguilla. The usual away goals tiebreaker applies first, but the second criterion to separate the sides involves sending the higher seeded side through if both teams remain deadlocked.

The structure places considerable emphasis on strong away performances. Three of the top four seeds — not you, Cruz Azul — delivered by securing two or more goals in those critical first leg affairs. Their exploits leave them in a promising position to book a place in the semifinals. The job isn’t done yet, though.

As an added bonus of the neutrals, the operating principles ensure the open fare from those first legs (18 goals in four matches) should continue. The lower-seeded sides must recover those goals lost at home and snatch an extra one or two to advance to the last four. Expect the goals to flow once more as these eight sides tussle for the right to continue their campaigns for another fortnight:

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23
Nov

Liga MX Liguilla quarterfinals, first leg preview

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The chase to dethrone Club América kicks off in earnest this weekend. Las Aguilas sit atop Liga MX after winning the Liguilla during the Clausura, but seven challengers to the throne emerged during the Apertura in a bid to end their reign over the next few weeks.

The potential usurpers will take heart from the FMF’s decision to adopt America as its de facto national team during the past month or so. The prospect of knocking off the holders increased when coach Miguel Herrera and 10 of his players shifted their focus to El Tri’s World Cup bid.

It is still a mighty assignment to knock them from their perch, though. The first step along the difficult path for the champions and their potential conquerors: navigating through tricky first leg ties this weekend.

(5) Toluca – (4) Cruz Azul (Saturday, 6:00p.m. ET)

Do the Red Devils have one last attacking explosion left in the arsenal? José Cardozo’s side scored three or more goals on five separate occasions during the Apertura. A sixth would place them in good stead ahead of a difficult return trip to Estadio Azul. Anything less could place their hopes of a semifinal place in some doubt given the seasoned opposition.

(6) Morelia – (3) Club León (Saturday, 8:00p.m. ET)

Can Morelia choke off the supply lines to Mauro Boselli? The former Wigan man functions as the only reliable threat in a capable, but somewhat impotent, León side. Morelia isn’t a particular resolute side, but it must use its defensive resources to limit Boselli’s involvement and pile the pressure on the likes of Luis Montes and Carlos Peña to contribute more than approach play from midfield.

imageStop Boselli, and you can stop Leon

(8) Tigres – (1) Club América (Sunday, 6:00p.m. ET)

Are the champions up for the fight? Miguel Herrera and a significant contingent spent much of the past month focused on carrying Mexico to the World Cup. They returned from a trip halfway around the world in midweek before commencing the disjointed preparations for this tricky test against talented, yet underachieving, Tigres. The first leg represents a genuine opportunity for Tigres to snatch a result as Las Aguilas settle back into the domestic scene. The home side must take it in order to fuel its upset bid.

(7) Querétaro – (2) Santos Laguna (Sunday, 8:00p.m. ET)

How will Pedro Caixinha manage Oribe Peralta? Peralta lifted Mexico to the World Cup with his goals over the past week or so. The burden placed upon him internationally and the lingering concerns about his balky knee raise questions about how the clever Santos boss will use him in this first leg. Caixinha can afford to leave Peralta in reserve and play Javier Orozco (a natural target man) in his place at the outset. The one caveat: the rest of the side must lift its level accordingly to ensure that potential selection decision does not place the hopes of a semifinal berth in peril.

imageWill Peralta’s hot form with El Tri translate over to the Liga MX playoffs? (Images: MexSport)

13
Nov

Five Points: Mexico 5, New Zealand 1

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(Image: Getty Images)

Mexico essentially booked its place in Brazil with an emphatic 5-1 victory over New Zealand on Wednesday afternoon.

El Tri finally emerged from its doldrums and swept aside the overwhelmed All Whites to remove any doubt from this potentially tricky tie. Interim boss Miguel Herrera relied on his Club América stalwarts and influential striker Oribe Peralta to cobble together the comprehensive display and render the return leg in Wellington moot.

How did Mexico cast aside its recent struggles and end New Zealand’s hopes of an upset? These five points offer an explanation of the resounding victory at the Azteca:

1. Patience yields production: Mexico probably could have and should have pushed the tempo a bit higher in the early stages, but it instead used its possession wisely and waited for New Zealand to crack. The composure offered a stark contrast to the desperate efforts earlier in the year and reaped significant dividends when the All Whites eventually crumbled.

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(Image: Getty Images)

2. Get it wide, get it into the box: Herrera tasked Paul Aguilar and Miguel Layún with pushing high up the flanks and supplying Peralta and Raul Jiménez. Time and time again, they fulfilled their brief. Their willingness to operate in advanced locations pulled apart New Zealand’s shape horizontally (a 3-4-3 on paper that played like a 5-4-1 in practice) and sent them running into dangerous areas. Aguilar scored the first by continuing his run at the back post, while Layún provided the service on both Peralta goals from the left flank.

3. Rely on diagonals to stretch the field … : New Zealand conceded possession and sat deeply for much of this game, but it found itself exposed by Rafa Márquez’s penchant to hit diagonals from right to left. Márquez created the third and fourth goals by playing directly from back to front and switching the point of attack to provide space for Layún to serve into the penalty area. Credit Márquez for leaning on his considerable technical ability to exploit the weakness, but the All Whites really should not have allowed that sort of direct play to unlock its rearguard.

 

(Image: Getty Images)

4. … and take advantage of set pieces: Mexico took charge from dead ball situations – particularly on corner kicks – by ceding some ground to the All Whites and then constructing alternative routes to goal. The most profitable line of inquiry came from playing quickly. New Zealand’s zonal marking system reacted poorly to short corners: the visitors often adopted static positions to cope with developing and fluid situations. The lack of awareness allowed Mexico to curl dangerous balls into the penalty area and score the first and fifth goals from dead ball situations. It proved a rather jarring contradiction to the All Whites’ expected superiority in this department.

5. In this test of depth, Mexico emerged with a resounding victory: Both teams entered this tie at something less than full strength. Herrera left out his European-based players to build a cohesive unit over an extended period of time. New Zealand boss Ricki Herbert omitted injured captain Winston Reid (ankle) and relegated the recovering Marco Rojas and Shane Smeltz to the bench.

The gap between the middle of the two player pools showed in this game: Herrera plumped for in-form Liga MX players to carry the day, while Herbert relied on A-League standouts, out-of-contract players and New Zealand-based semi-professionals to fill his void. New Zealand needed the discipline, the fitness and the structure supplied by its stars to conjure up the Herculean performance required to snatch a result at the Azteca. On this day, the All Whites simply did not have the players to compete for 90 minutes. And it showed.

12
Nov

Liga MX: Apertura review

imageCan Club America return to early-season form? (Image: Reuters)

The impending World Cup playoff between Mexico and New Zealand obscured the end of the Liga MX campaign with good reason. Club América secured the top seed by what felt like the halfway point in this 17-game season. Half the playoff teams entrenched themselves in the Liguilla places with a handful of rounds to play. Only three postseason spots hung in the balance heading into the final weekend.

A little bit of late drama perked up the proceedings (Chiapas tumbled out altogether after entering the final two weekends in fifth place) and provided a bit of context to a compelling season. Catch up on the proceedings with a look at the key points you might have missed along the way:

1. Club América is the best team in Mexico and it isn’t close… 

América set the tone for the Apertura by dropping two points (a 1-1 draw with resurgent Club León to open the season) in its first seven matches. Miguel Herrera’s side then responded to its first defeat by winning five of its next six matches. Only the wholesale adoption of Herrera and the América starting XI by the FMF prevented the holders from making a serious run at just about every foreseeable record in a short season.

2. … but that fact may not lead to a second consecutive title               

The closing stages of the campaign provided reason for hope: América claimed just one win in its final five outings with its coach and its players distracted by their duties with El Tri. Those missteps came with the top seed essentially sealed, but there are reasons – particularly the setback against quarterfinal opponent Tigres (a difficult opponent given the proximity of the first leg in Monterrey to the World Cup playoff second leg in Wellington) and the suspect record against potential contenders León (the season-opening draw) and Santos Laguna (a midseason defeat) – to suggest the best team during the season may not ultimately defend its trophy.

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1
Aug

Liga MX: Five points from the mid-week games

 

by Kyle McCarthy

The scheduling demands imposed by the split season and the upcoming World Cup qualifiers forced most Mexican teams to cope with fixtures in midweek. It is not an ideal situation by any means, but these sides understand how to adjust appropriately and sidestep any potential effects.

Those efforts, however, are not always successful. A couple of intriguing results dotted the landscape as this round – complete with five points to accompany it – wound to a close on Wednesday night:

1. Perhaps the expectations of a revival in Guadalajara were misplaced: Benjamin Galindo’s side suffered a 2-0 defeat to league leaders Veracruz at Estadio Omnilife on Wednesday. Chivas conceded a stellar opener to Cristian Marrugo after five minutes and watched the in-form Angel Reyna (now joint top scorer with five goals) seal the points just short of full time. The defeat prompted Galindo to ask more from Marco Fabián and Rafael Márquez Lugo in order to slide this always wayward ship back on track.

 

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