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May 15, 2013

Four keys to victory against Monterrey

Club America survived 180 intense minutes in Mexico City against rivals Pumas to stamp their ticket through to the Liga MX semifinals in the Clausura 2013 tournament. With Monterrey on the horizon, a team that has long frustrated their progress in the playoffs, Miguel Herrera will need to focus on the following to keep his former team at bay and secure just his second tournament final as a manager in his decade-long career.

1. Keep the ball away from Humberto Suazo

Easier said than done. The Chilean superstar has dropped back in Monterrey's attacking formation to become a number 10 of sorts, leaving Aldo de Nigris up front as the team's only set striker and partnering up with Cesar Delgado to pull the strings. Suazo's offensive presence is the most dangerous thing America will need to deal with over two legs, and his mere presence commands special attention.

In the past, Aquivaldo Mosquera has been in charge of marking him closely, but Suazo's silky touch and deft movement will likely require Diego Reyes (should he come back from injury in time for the second leg) to take his place. A rotating blanket coverage could be in order as well, with two players partnering up to take Suazo on at times.

2. Attack the right side offensively

With usual national teamer Severo Meza facing an onslaught in the quarterfinals against Tigres, manager Victor Manuel Vucetich decided to shade center back Hiram Mier over to cope with the movement and stop crosses from coming in on a regular basis. Rubens Sambueza, America's top midfielder, is strictly positioned on the left side. On the right side, a decidedly weaker Osvaldo Martinez has not usually gotten the opportunity to lead attacks.

It is, however, crucial that Martinez and even right back Paul Aguilar step up to test that weaker right side. This has not been Meza's finest hour, and with Mier shading over, opportunities and space will be created for Raul Jimenez and Christian "Chucho" Benitez up front. Martinez needs to be the difference maker in that sector in order to create the danger.

3. Survive the opening firestorm

Monterrey likes to start fast. America will step onto a loud, crowded Estadio Tecnologico pitch where 40,000-plus will be egging their team to go forth and strike first. With Reyes out for this particular match, the onus will be on whether Herrera goes with a two center-back set or remains with three in the back and inserts Juan Carlos Valenzuela.

If it's a 4-4-2, expect Juan Carlos Medina to drop back in coverage and form a double shield with Jesus Molina. If it's a 5-3-2, well... Valenzuela will need to show a lot more than he's done so far in the tournament. The first 15-30 minutes are crucial. If America can shoulder that load, the game will start to clear up.

4. Counterattack with Chucho

Benitez's speed and low center of gravity are unmatched in the Liga MX. Often, the Ecuador international has taken two defenders on with ease. If America is expecting an early onslaught, then Benitez will need to isolate himself in the middle of the pitch and wait for long, threaded crosses that will allow him the open field he so desires.

America used this tactic to perfection against Pumas in the first leg to capture the game's only goal. Aguilar kicked it up 40 yards for Benitez to receive, cross to Jimenez and watch as Mexico's young striker tucked a diving header into the back of the net. Monterrey will be equally vulnerable to such surgical precision.