Chivas season not saved by Clasico Nacional draw, but energy generates CCL hope
Watching Chivas on Saturday night in the Clasico Nacional it was easy to have a thought: Where was this in the first nine matches?
Matias Almeyda's men could only secure a 1-1 draw against rival Club America, which stays in first place with an undefeated record. In the process, though, they showed an energy and fluidity they've rarely displayed in the first nine matches of the season.
That's why their dreams of making the postseason were all but dashed with the point Saturday. With a fourth consecutive draw, Chivas now have eight points. The team in the eighth and final playoff position - and even a team out of the playoff places - has 15 at the end of the round.
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With seven weeks left, making up the seven-point gap isn't impossible but it is unlikely. Three of their remaining matches are against teams currently in the Liguilla spots, and Chivas still are looking for their first league win at home this season after getting just one home victory in the Apertura.
Saturday, Chivas looked different. Was it being overlooked the majority of the week in the lead-up to the contest? Was it finally locking in with a consistent lineup after injuries and poor performances have made that a struggle? Whatever it was, they came out of the starting gate like a rocket. The work paid off with Jose Godinez's 20th-minute goal.
That strike seemed to serve as a wake-up call for Las Aguilas, though, who hit back five minutes later with an excellent turn and finish from Oribe Peralta after their own bit of sustained pressure. From there, it was an open rivalry game, seven yellow cards, a few aggressive discussions. Passion.
Chivas competed against an America team that has looked far superior to its rival for several months. Chivas kept the ball well, and while America ended the night with a few more scoring chances the stalemate felt like a fair result (though Chivas also can thank Mexico's lack of VAR with Ceclio Dominguez putting the ball in the back of the net but seeing the flag up despite him appearing to be in an onside position).
Escaping the Clasico with a draw may not seem like much of a moral victory, but Chivas still could achieve actual victories on the field this season. Almeyda now has to work on his game plan for the Seattle Sounders in the quarterfinals of the CONACAF Champions League.
Remember, Almeyda bought himself some time with Chivas by winning the Copa MX in the 2015 Apertura, the tournament before getting the team back into the Liguilla. He may do the same this season if he's able to lead Chivas to an international title for the first time in the modern era.
"While there's still hope, we're going to go out to fight," forward Alan Pulido said after the contest. "Now we have another important tournament to play Wednesday. We've got to change the chip because we want to get into the next round."
Chivas' path into the next round goes through the Sounders with a potential semifinal coming against the winner of the Club Tijuana-New York Red Bulls series. That not only looks like a more friendly path than the other side of the bracket, it also means there couldn't be another Clasico Nacional in the tournament without being the final.
Clearly, Chivas would come out to play in that game, but they have to know they won't make it there unless they show the same energy they showed Saturday against the Sounders and the other opponents they'll face this spring. Anything less will mean another tournament that goes down as a failure for Mexico's most popular club.