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May 13, 2013

America faces a battle hardened Monterrey in semis

After a rousing 180 minute series against crosstown rivals Pumas last week, Club America escaped with an aggregate 3-1 victory, staggering through a second leg that saw them in danger of being eliminated before Christian Benitez completed a rousing comeback with yet another brace.

This week, Miguel Herrera will head back to Monterrey, where the manager tasted his first Liga MX final when he was head of the Rayados, before bowing out to Toluca in a still-controversial match for Monterrey fans. As Club America boss, Herrera has seen his team bounced out in two straight semifinals, with his former team to blame exactly a year ago.

When these two teams first met in the very first match of the Clausura 2013, America relied on a late comeback spurred on by a late penalty kick call that allowed them to claim victory at the Estadio Azteca. After the regular-season win, they will now turn their attention towards ending a three-decade long playoff drought.

En route to their 1983-84 league title, America eliminated Monterrey in a fierce semifinal offering. Since then, the Aguilas have been unable to take care of business against the northern side in the postseason. This particular matchup won't be any easier. Despite finishing ninth in the league table, Monterrey made they playoffs on a technicality: Queretaro was in line for the eighth and final seed, but were disqualified due to their relegation.

In the other rivalry match in the quarterfinals, Monterrey stunned league leaders Tigres with a 2-1 aggregate scoreline that saw them move on to the semifinals without a hitch. Winners of two league titles since 2009 and three CONCACAF Champions League, Monterrey has become a battle hardened team under Victor Manuel Vucetich.

Their organized, unforgiving style against opposing mistakes will be a true test for America, who upon winning this season's regular season match notched just their second win against Monterrey since 2009. An away goal will be crucial. Boasting arguably the most vocal fan base in the Liga MX along with Monterrey neighbors Tigres, the Estadio Tecnologico stands will be rife with opposition for America. In the last decade, America have won just twice there, meaning an added onus will be put upon the second leg at the Estadio Azteca.

Eliminating Monterrey could possibly set up a massive America-Cruz Azul final that the league and many fans crave. However, the possibility for a replay of this year's (and last) CONCACAF Champions League final between the Rayados and Santos is also a possibility.