Las Aguilas are in position to win a record 12th Mexican title, but in-form Leon will be a difficult opponent in the final.
Aside from the fact only Hugo Sanchez’s Pumas have won back-to-back titles in Mexico since the short tournament system began in 1996, the subcontext is that next Sunday in the final against Leon, America could become the most successful team in Mexico, surpassing Chivas’ 11 titles.
Winning number 12 it isn’t something that was lost on America coach Miguel Herrera, who will be leaving to take over the national team after next Sunday’s final. It matters.
“We hope to leave the team on top in (terms of) trophies won,” said Herrera after the game.
And although Leon is in excellent shape, having scored 17 goals in its last five games, you wouldn’t bet against a driven America winning title number 12.
The team has that knack of finding ways to win these two leg series.
In the final last season, it was a Herculean comeback against Cruz Azul. So far this liguilla, in the quarterfinal against Tigres, America came through despite being below-par for large swathes of the 180 minutes.
Again on Sunday, Las Aguilas put on a display that highlighted the maturity of the side, specifically the pragmatic side of Herrera, with the team managing the games with expertise.
America shut out the Liga MX’s leading scorer Pablo Valezquez and restricted Isaac Brizuela, Toluca’s main threats. It wasn’t by accident that Brizuela had two players trailing him every time he got on the ball.
Both of America’s goals originated from set pieces, another reflection of the planning from coach Herrera, who will lead Mexico to Brazil 2014 next summer.
“We played a rounded game, the team looks solid,” said Herrera. “The strongest thing about this group is the balance. They attack very well and defend very well.”
In the 19th minute, Miguel Layun popped up in the center of the field to mop up a dangerous ball cut back across the defense. One minute later he was twisting and turning down the left wing. His performance and work ethic typified America’s attitude.
Moises Munoz made a vital save in the 71st minute and while Francisco “Maza” Rodriguez’s lack of pace is a concern, America’s defense was solid, even without Juan Carlos Valenzuela.
America is at team at ease with itself, although Leon under the highly ambitious Gustavo Matosas will be relishing the chance to spoil America’s party and comes into the game as the form side in Mexico.
Carlos Pena, Luis Montes, Rafa Marquez, Matias Britos and Mauro Boselli have all hit form at the right time and the performance over the two legs against Santos Laguna was exceptional.
It is no coincidence that 10 of the starting XI for those World Cup playoff games against New Zealand were from one of America or Leon and now they will battle it out for the title.
A mouthwatering Liga MX final should be in store.