The two-leg clash between Club America and Leon is packed with intriguing storylines on and off the field, from Carlos Pena's emergence to Rafa Marquez's resurgence.The Liga MX final between Club America and Leon is a sprawl of intriguing storylines on and off the field, with fans camping overnight to get tickets to Thursday's first leg in Leon and the Estadio Azteca already sold out to its 100,000-plus capacity for the defining game Sunday.
When Rafa Marquez left MLS in late 2012, few would've bet that there would be sting in the tail of a career that is up there with the best any player from the CONCACAF region has achieved.
The Kaiser of Michoacan started off shakily when he returned to the Liga MX in 2013 for the first time since leaving Atlas as a 20-year-old, but a full preseason and an injury-free run has made the second half of 2013 an unqualified success.
Not only will Marquez lead out Las Panzas Verdes looking for his first Mexican title and the club's first since 1992, he's also just landed the job of captain for El Tri under new manager Miguel Herrera, who just happens to be on the opposition's bench for the final.
A title would cap a sensational year for a player many had resigned to the scrap heap.
Bubbling below the surface of Mexican soccer always seems to be the role of television companies. The Televisa/TV Azteca axis has long dominated, but the entrance of Grupo Pachuca in buying Leon and Pachuca has thrown down the gauntlet to the existing powers.
Leon broke the TV duopoly when it signed away rights to its home games in Mexico to Fox Sports in September 2012.
Thursday's first leg won't be on terrestrial television in Mexico — the first final that won't be on the open Televisa or TV Azteca channels — because of Leon's contract with Fox, but Televisa got in contact with Leon to see if a deal could be done. It couldn't.
With Carlos Slim hungry to make a mark in Mexico's TV market and the existing TV companies jealously eyeing up the wealth Slim has accumulated in telecommunications, the issue is a microcosm of wider issues playing out in Mexican business and politics.
This Apertura 2013 final is likely the first battle in a wider war involving TV rights in Mexican soccer.
NATIONAL TEAMERS CLASH
It was all smiles when America's seven national team players fused with the Leon trio of Carlos Pena, Marquez and Luis Montes to produce a side that bulldozed past New Zealand in the World Cup playoff. The chemistry was there and the two sides could also make up the backbone of Mexico's World Cup squad.
Over the 180 minutes of the Liga MX final, that friendship will be put to one side. The personal battles threaten to be fascinating, with Pena in midfield up against Juan Carlos Medina and the veteran Marquez charged with stopping rising star Raul Jimenez.
TITLE NO. 12
In the wider context, America is gunning for a historic title that would see the Mexico City club pass Chivas' 11 championships. Herrera has said he wants to leave Las Aguilas in first place in the all-time league table before taking over Mexico and goaded opposition fans to "hate them more" — a play on America fan slogan "hate me more."
Sunday could represent a significant shift in the balance of power in Mexican soccer, with fans of Guadalajara dreading an America victory, especially because of how poor Chivas has been in 2013.
THE RISE OF CARLOS PENA
A leading contender for the player of the season award for the Apertura 2013, Pena has been the dynamo at the heart of Leon's success and the key to many of its 17 goals over its past five games. Rumors of interest from European clubs have unsurprisingly swirled.
Herrera will likely put plans in place to restrict the space the attacking midfielder has to work in. But with the way the Ciudad Victoria native is exerting his influence over matches recently for club and country, he'll take some stopping.