America overcome drama, point to first place finish
A 1-0 win over Pumas was enough to give America its first sweep of its three biggest rivals for the first time since 1997. Tigres, the Liga MX league leader, sits just three points above Miguel Herrera's team with two matches remaining. A fortnight from now, those same Tigres will visit the Estadio Azteca in the regular season finale.
Already with a playoff place in hand with the win on Saturday, the Mexico City giants point to a different objective with the sandglass on the Clausura 2013 running out: home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. "We want to be as high up as possible in the table because it gives us the opportunity to choose when we play and always have the opposition come to our stadium in the second game," stated Herrera in a Monday press conference.
The Week 17 duel between Herrera's team and Tigres is of interest not just to those fighting at the top of the playoff slots, but also those fighting at the bottom. Eighth-place Queretaro is currently unable to qualify due to the fact that it is still in the relegation race with Puebla.
With six points remaining in the season, they have to win out and hope that Puebla (coincidentally, their last opponent of the season) picks up no points to retain its spot in the Liga MX and fight for the league title. Thus, the spot would drop to Monterrey, Tigres' fiercest rival and a team currently battling Santos for supremacy in the CONCACAF Champions League.
And yes, despite the drama surrounding the America locker room of late (a topic Herrera addressed as well), any matchup in the playoffs that has their opponents going into the Estadio Azteca for the second leg is beyond favorable. "This group is sensational, there's an extraordinary collection of guys here. When players get upset when I sub them out (you all) think that the dressing room must be broken. But in here, at the core of this team we know what we're after," stated a defiant Herrera.
"Them" refers specifically to Christian Benitez, whom we reported last week as supposedly having an all-out spat with Herrera. It was the Ecuador international who scored the game's only goal on Saturday against Pumas, and who continues to carry the team offensively alongside Raul Jimenez and Rubens Sambueza. Benitez laughed off a fight post-match, as did Herrera.
Home-field advantage throughout the playoffs would be definitely be important to America, considering they haven't lost a Liga MX match at the Estadio Azteca all season, and is one of only three teams to not drop a game at home in the entire Clausura 2013.
Should America defeat Pachuca and Tigres in their two remaining games, they could finish first (only Atlas could best them) and do so for the first time since 2005, also the last year they paraded a league championship trophy around the Estadio Azteca ground.