The Battle for SoCal: CONCACAF Champions League
The Battle for SoCal: CONCACAF Champions League
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:
Estos son los convocados para el partido vs Corea del próximo 29 de enero. pic.twitter.com/xT2UuaSPS4— Miguel Herrera (@MiguelHerreraDT)January 23, 2014
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.
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.
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:
Omar Bravo’s reunion with Chivas was only overshadowed by…
Atlas and Chivas share a city and a penchant for peculiar behaviors. The bitter rivals solicit controversy at every turn. Nothing comes easily on or off the field. Their actions consistently reinforce their inconsistent approach to standard operating principles.
The events on Monday underscored the unique operating fabric within the city’s footballing landscape at the moment. It is quite the day indeed when Omar Bravo’s return to Chivas from Atlas somehow ranks third in the pecking order.
Bravo’s rather reluctant reunion with his former side after a successful spell across town even drew second billing at Estadio Omnilife. Jose Luis Real claimed top spot when he emerged as the new Chivas coach for the Clausura. It is a typical inside job of an appointment for a club that places real value on turning to people familiar with its unorthodox ways. Real spent the past six months or so tending to the oft-ignored sister club in Los Angeles, but Chivas owner Jorge Vergara concluded his poor spell in MLS to steer the Red-and-White away from relegation.
…the club’s other comeback signing: manager Jose Luis Real (Images: Mexsport)
The move carries the usual air of desperation, though it also include more pragmatism than usual. Real guided Chivas to the Copa Libertadores during his first spell between 2009 and 2011 and oversaw a diligent, if somewhat lackluster, side capable of churning out results. His efficiency appeals after a poor Apertura campaign. The prospect of installing the unsuccessful Chivas USA technical team – both Real and new sporting director Francisco Palencia return to the parent club a dismal sojourn north of the border – to fix matters at home somehow fits right into the peculiar working order of a club lurching from identity to identity.
Atlas addressed its more pressing financial concerns when its vast ownership group reached an agreement to sell the debt-laden club to TV Azteca on Monday night. The decision essentially wipes away any long-term questions about financial viability. The club will survive, but it may just do so at the expense of coherence and working order in Liga MX.
TV Azteca’s acquisition once again raises concerns about investors owning multiple Liga MX teams. Liga MX adopted a one-owner, one-team policy back in May with an eye toward fully implementing the policy by 2018. As part of that agreement, the owners agreed to maintain or subtract from their current holdings before that juncture. TV Azteca sidestepped that rule to add Atlas to a portfolio that already includes Liguilla entrants Morelia.
If the past few months (years?) in Mexico prove anything, it is the pliability of the rules and regulations to suit the needs of Liga MX and its owners. Atlas’ sale reinforces those notions and supplies a salient reminder that those structures are always subject to revision. And at this stage in a tumultuous year for both Guadalajara-based sides, it should come as no surprise that the maxim especially holds true in Mexico’s second city.
Club Atlas’ financial woes are over, but is their deal with Azteca TV good for Liga MX?
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.
Stop 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.
Will Peralta’s hot form with El Tri translate over to the Liga MX playoffs? (Images: MexSport)
Can 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.
Chiapas and Querétaro faced uncertain futures in top-flight football at the conclusion of the Clausura. It took a typically circuitous solution from the oligarchy behind Liga MX to provide a solution and rescue both clubs from insolvency and irrelevancy.
The franchise swapping started in earnest when Querétaro finished the campaign at the bottom of the relegation table and slid out of the top flight. Instead of accepting its fate and trying to secure promotion out of Ascenso MX after a year in purgatory, the ownership group in Querétaro constructed a workaround: it purchased the license of Jaguares de Chiapas to retain a place in the first division and promptly moved the club to Querétaro (yet somehow kept many of the old players from the relegated side).
Querétaro’s machinations created an opportunity for San Luis to fill the void in Chiapas. The owners in San Luis opted to close their club – a going, if never wildly successful, concern since 1957 – and shift their operations to Chiapas. The people of Chiapas retained their side, though the new entity currently boasts a roster primarily comprised of loan players (as do many other sides in Mexico, it must be said).
The merry-go-round also included the unseemly dissolution of La Piedad after earning a spot in Liga MX and the virtual promotion of Veracruz, but the Tiburones Rojos – rather appropriately despite a bright start, it must be said – aren’t in the postseason discussions heading into the final round of the Apertura. Chiapas and Querétaro, however, enter the final weekend in position to qualify for the eight-team playoffs.
Chiapas needs only a point at bottom side Atlante – a decent side in Cancún (2-3-3) given the abject home displays from most sides mired near the bottom – to confirm its Liguilla place. Querétaro likely requires a win at Pachuca to prevent ninth-place Tigres (away to Copa MX runners-up Atlas) and tenth-place Club Tijuana (away to already-qualified Club León) from overtaking them with a victory.
For both sides, there is plenty of work still to do to snatch a postseason berth few expected at the start of this campaign. And given the plight both clubs faced at the end of May, the achievement would prove rather remarkable indeed.
Despite winning the match, Veracruz goalkeeper Edgar Hernandez’s day was almost ruined thanks to a remarkably silly own goal.
After Hernandez clumsily brought down a Cruz Azul player for a penalty, the backstop made the save to seemingly keep his team’s two-goal lead in tact. However, amazingly, the ball rebounded to a Veracruz defender, whose heinous attempt at a clearance ricocheted off a second teammate and past a hapless Hernandez into the net.
Now as a goalkeeper, few things are as exhilarating as stopping a penalty kick. To then have someone else snatch away your mojo like that, now that’s just devastating. The guilty pair of defenders who made this OG possible are more than lucky this didn’t cost them the game.
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.