It took less than a minute for America to show things were going to be different this time around.
Last tournament, Las Aguilas played four playoff matches and didn't score a single goals. Wednesday they opened the scoring in the first minute thanks to a header from Mateus Uribe and didn't stop there. America rolled past Pumas 4-1 setting up what should be a comfortable second leg on the way to the semifinals.
Uribe was the key. The Colombian midfielder always does it all, tying for the team lead in goals during the regular season and putting in significant work in the midfield. He raised things another notch Wednesday, scoring twice, putting several key passes on a platter for his teammates and winning the ball back nearly a dozen times through interceptions or recoveries.
It was a Man of the Match showing as Uribe thrived in the box-to-box role where he's most comfortable. With Jeremy Menez back from injury, he didn't have to attempt to be the creator in the middle of the America attack, as manager Miguel Herrera asked him to be in Menez's absence. The comfort came through as Uribe delivered the best performance in a season that has been full of strong showings.
This is the second tournament Uribe has played in Mexico, joining America from Atletico Nacional in the summer of 2017. Herrera's men have struggled without Uribe's influence, falling against an inferior Puebla team 3-1 when he was sent off in the second half. Playing for the first time since that defeat, Uribe appeared eager to atone for the mistake, scoring a header in the first minute and a rocket from outside the box in the 38th.
The early goal deflated Pumas, a team that needed a positive result in the first leg and immediately was working from behind. For a club that had struggled to score this season, especially when teams were able to mark central forward Nicolas Castillo out of contests, the early strike put Pumas on their heels. A soft penalty converted by Menez served as a knockdown, while Uribe's golazo was the knockout blow.
When Pumas goalkeeper Alfredo Saldivar looped his arm around Oribe Peralta's leg, Uribe didn't step up to cap off his hat trick, instead letting Menez score a second from the spot. Who cares about a hat trick when you're having fun? The smile plastered across Uribe's face gave away how great he was feeling. Uribe does everything, and everything was working against Pumas.
The home side was poor on the night, and it was a disappointing showing from David Patino's men. Instead of responding to the opening goal, Pumas were out of it by the time the halftime whistle blew. Uribe wasn't going to be denied on the night, but they could've at least made him fight through a bit of resistance as he carved through their defense.
America has to know that between matches like Wednesday's, his quality showings in the CONCACAF Champions League and his general excellence during the season plus the likelihood he plays with Colombia at the World Cup, Uribe may not be long for Mexico City.
They can still enjoy him for at least three more games after he keyed the first-leg victory that will send the club into the semifinals and perhaps help carry them even farther.