Three months ago Club America were in crisis mode. They had suffered a damaging home loss to Leon, and had recently been humiliated by their arch-rivals Chivas by a score of 3-0 at home in the Azteca. To make matters worse, Club America were in the middle of their centennial year, and for a club whose fans have an unquenchable thirst for titles, collecting four wins from nine games is simply unacceptable.
Fast forward a few months and Club America are in an entirely different situation. After having beaten Chivas in the quarterfinals of Liga MX’s playoffs, the Liguilla, and seeing off Necaxa in the semifinals, Club America are just one game away from capping off their centennial year with a Liga MX trophy in hand. In their path however, will be Tigres UANL, a team regarded as one of the best in Mexico and coming home to the Azteca with anything less than the Liga MX title will be a massive blow to Club America’s centennial celebrations.
How did Club America make such a radical change in a few short months?
After a loss to Leon in the Azteca, Club America sacked their manager Ignacio Ambriz, and brought in experienced Liga MX manager Ricardo La Volpe as his replacement.
As mentioned before, America had only won four from nine games. The loss to Chivas at home in the Azteca was seen as a colossal failure for a club in the middle of their centennial celebrations. Since that loss, Ambriez’s position as Club America manager had been hanging by a thread, one which was cut just two match days later with the loss to Leon.
Chivas players celebrate their win over Club America at the Azteca.
(Photo from Goal.com)
Under Ambriz, America had failed to convert the mythical Azteca into a fortress, something which incoming manager La Volpe desperately needed to change if he was to have any amount of success as manager.
Much to La Volpe’s credit he did just that. In La Volpe’s first two home games Club America came away the victors after defeating Pumas in the league and Veracruz in the Cup. However, La Volpe led Club America to success away from home as well, going undefeated in six games across all competitions.
Unfortunately for fans of America, however, the mood around the club quickly changed when the team was set to play Chivas in the semifinal of the Copa MX, Mexico’s domestic cup competition. While the cup is almost universally regarded as a second tier competition, the match between Chivas and Club America, Mexico’s Super Clásico or Clásico Nacional, gave the cup fixture an added layer of meaning. For many the match against Chivas was a chance for the Mexican giants to get one back on their long standing rivals.
The midweek cup clash against Chivas started well enough for America. La Volpe had his men in the lead going into halftime and Club America were fairly dominant throughout the first half. Without an overly drastic change in players, Club America were playing in a way which was nigh unrecognizable to what Chivas were displaying a month before. However, Club America let Chivas claw their way back into the game with an Alan Pulido goal in the second half. Club America ultimately lost the fixture in a penalty shootout leading to, once more, calls of a crisis in the club’s centennial year.
However since the loss to Chivas in the cup, Club America have failed to lose a game in the regular season or playoffs. They did eventually get their revenge against Chivas, however, when the two Mexican giants played each other again for a third time in the Apertura 2016 season.
Club America beat Necaxa on their way to the final.
(Photo from La Opinion.com)
After having dispatched Chivas and Necaxa in the playoffs, Club America made their way to Japan for the 2016 FIFA Club World Cup, a tournament they qualified for by winning the 2015-2016 CONCACAF Champions League.
In Japan, Club America enjoyed relatively limited success, winning only one of their three matches. In the quarterfinals of the competition, the Mexican side came out the victors against South Korean side Jeonbuk Motors. The result set up a semifinal clash against Spanish giants Real Madrid.
Club America represented themselves well against Real Madrid, however, the European champions ultimately withered down the CONCACAF representatives to progress to the final. While a win against Real Madrid and a FIFA Club World Cup title would have propelled Club America’s centennial year to legendary status, the real opportunity for the club’s fans awaits in the Liga MX final.
In a repeat of the 2015-2016 CONCACAF Champions League final, Club America will face off against Tigres UANL in the final of the Liga MX apertura season. The first leg of the fixture ended in a 1-1 draw, leaving it all to play for in the second leg of the final.
Tigres are without their talisman striker Andre Gignac, who left the Azteca on Wednesday night in an ambulance after sustaining a neck injury. While Gignac is expected to make a full recovery, it is unlikely that he will be able to make an appearance in the second leg, something which should give Club America a boost of confidence.
La Volpe has changed Club America in a very short time and has the team dominating their opponents. However, Club America will have to take their chances as they come against a Tigres side which likes to maintain possession of the ball.
A victory against heated rival Chivas in the quarterfinals of the Liguilla is all well and good, however, the real prize, the real jewel in the King’s crown, can only be claimed if Club America manage to bring home the Liga MX trophy. Expectations for the club are high, as they always are, but they are a team which thrives off the expectations set for them by the fans.
A Liga MX crown on Christmas day, after knocking off Chivas in the quarterfinals, would be the perfect fairytale ending to Club America’s centennial year.