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.