In its 100th anniversary, Club America desperately wanted to win a league title. It looked as though a 19-year-old would be the one to give the storied club glory in its milestone season after Edson Alvarez's header gave Las Aguilas the extra-time lead.
But after Paolo Goltz was sent off for his part in an ugly fracas that developed just before the break between halves of extra time, the teams were once again level numerically. It was nine on nine after a night that was wild even by Liga MX standards, and Tigres took advantage with relentless pressuring on America's net. Their pushes forward were nearly fruitless, but just before the final whistle Jurgen Damm served up a cross for Jesus Duenas, whose header was the only thing to beat Moises Munoz on Sunday.
Tigres empata sobre la hora. pic.twitter.com/RsD3D1mabq— Univision Deportes (@UnivisionSports) December 26, 2016
"El Volcan," Tigres' home stadium nicknamed "The Volcano" for the cauldron of lava its 40,000-plus fans create, erupted. And America's players were shaken. How would they not be? The crowd chanted down as the players lined up for their spot kicks, with Tigres goalkeeper Nahuel Guzman adding to the psychological pressure with his own mind games, walking up to the kick-taker, taking time to put on each individual glove, then sinking back into the bubbling molten of the crowd. He saved all three kicks America attempted, and Tigres became champion for the fifth time in their history.
It all fell apart quickly for America, which was a goal up and had a man advantage on Tigres, but saw Rubens Sambueza get his second yellow card in the 102nd minute and only minutes later Goltz sent to the showers for his role in the brawl — a decision that looked to have moved the center back to tears. He'll be even more frustrated now, not able to play a part as Tigres battered the remaining back line and eventually got the equalizer through Duenas.
Edson Álvarez anota y pone a soñar al América. pic.twitter.com/AN4w8MMV7a— Univision Deportes (@UnivisionSports) December 26, 2016
Alvarez's goal, his first professional tally, America's second in the series and the second from a corner kick, had America dreaming of a centennial triumph that seemed impossible months ago. But Ricardo La Volpe turned the team around, and his tactical decision to use Goltz and Pablo Aguilar in a back four rather than sticking with his typical 5-3-2 helped America establish control early in both legs. But Sunday, Tigres slowly worked its way back into the match with a game plan that was trademark Ricardo "Tuca" Ferretti.
Ferretti saw it pay off, and watched on as his team rode the home-field advantage to a tying goal, then an emphatic win in the shootout. It was the 1,000th Liga MX match Ferretti has overseen, and resulted in the fifth title he has won. There is no doubt he is among the best managers the league has seen, and that status was cemented by tying Manuel Lapuente for the manager with the most titles in the short tournament era (including those Lapuente won before the format change).
This was not an exceptional final as far as the soccer on display goes. Liga MX regularly has matches with better quality. And while many of those games have plenty of drama and excitement, the occasion ratcheted up the level of drama in the Christmas Day finale. There were better games this year, sure, but it will be hard to remember them after the emotion, Guzman's gamesmanship, the screaming fans and Tuca's joy upon lifting the trophy.