Club America achieve historic 13th title as Cruz Azul curse continues
MEXICO CITY -- Edson Alvarez netted two second half goals as Club America defeated Cruz Azul 2-0 on Sunday to win the Liga MX 2018 Apertura inside Estadio Azteca.
The teams had tied 0-0 in Thursday's first leg.
Here are three quick thoughts:
1. Alvarez etches name in history as America claim title No. 13
This was Edson Alvarez's night in Estadio Azteca. When other more experienced heads around him couldn't get a grip and stick the ball into the back of the net, it was the 21-year-old who struck a sweet left-footed shot into the top corner from the edge of the penalty area to open the scoring in the 51st minute.
Yes, Cruz Azul goalkeeper Jesus Corona was at fault was distributing the ball to Ivan Marcone, who was facing goal and wasn't aware that the wily Oribe Peralta was snapping at his heels. But when Peralta pounced and the ball ran for Alvarez, he produced the moment of magic that this final had so badly lacked up until then.
And then he sealed the win with a 90th minute goal to send the azulcrema half of Estadio Azteca wild.
The significance of this title win for America is huge. Las Aguilas now move on to 13 titles at the top of the Mexican football tree, leaving Guadalajara's all-Mexican side Chivas stranded on 12.
And then there is the fact it was that it was against local rival Cruz Azul. The derby may not be an intense as an America-Pumas, but America fans certainly enjoy rubbing the fact Cruz Azul hasn't won a Liga MX trophy since 1997 into the faces of La Maquina's suffering faithful.
On top of that, America coach Miguel Herrera should be applauded. After being sacked by the national team for swinging a punch at a reporter after the 2015 Gold Cup, Sunday's title represents a return to the peak of the Mexican game.
It was an epic win against Cruz Azul in the 2013 Clausura that propelled El Piojo to the Mexican national team and this latest win -- even if it was nowhere near as epic -- has boosted his stock once again.
2. Cruz Azul's title drought continues
Cruz Azul last won the Liga MX trophy 7,679 days ago when Elton John's "Candle in the Wind" was the number one song in the United States. Since then the verb "cruzazulear" -- a euphemism meaning "to mess things up" -- has come about due to the team's penchant for losing finals. Sunday's was the sixth decisive final for Cruz Azul since that Invierno 1997 win.
This defeat was partially heartbreaking for 37-year-old Corona, whose mistake cost his side badly. The captain of the team had vowed to fans outside the team hotel on the eve of the final that his side would give its all.
In truth, Cruz Azul was second-best over the series and coach Pedro Caixinha can have no complaints about picking up the runners-up medal. Ironically, the scoreline could've been worse but for a couple of smart saves from Corona in the second half and even as Cruz Azul searched for an equalizer, there was never a sense that it was imminent.
Cruz Azul fans ahead of the game could be seen with "2018 Apertura Champion" T-shirts on, with stands outside selling them for both clubs. For many, it felt like this was the night the demons would finally be erased. Those same fans will naturally be especially devastated at losing a sixth consecutive final and another against city rival America.
There's not much that will cheer them up as Monday's hangover wears off. But there is reason for Cruz Azul to be positive moving forward. Caixinha and sporting president Ricardo Pelaez have put together a strong squad, won the regular season after leading the table in 12 of the 17 rounds of matches and deservedly reached reach the final.
Cruz Azul will be back fighting for honors as long as Caixinha and Pelaez are at the club and the owners continue to give them money to spend.
3. Series defined by cautious football
Liga MX finals don't tend to be anywhere near as tight as this one. It's usually the opposite, with both teams chasing the game. But the writing seemed to be on the wall as to what kind of match the second leg was going to be as soon as the team sheets came out. Both managers shifted from a 4-2-3-1 in the first leg to a 4-4-2 in the return match.
Only Caixinha and Cruz Azul will know whether the Portuguese coach changed up the system to match that of America and try to make the game as tight as possible. It had been widely reported on the Saturday that Herrera -- who isn't the type of coach who keeps his lineups secretive -- would be playing with Oribe Peralta and Henry Martin upfront.
What it meant was that two similar systems once again clashed and the series was like a hard fought arm wrestle going slightly back and forth without either slamming down the other's hand. That lasted until the 51st, when Alvarez took advantage of Corona's mistake.
But it wasn't only the system. The choice of players within it caused an ugly game. Caixinha omitting Cruz Azul's creative spark Roberto Alvarado meant the home side was predictable, one-dimensional and reliant and direct balls into front two Milton Caraglio and Martin Cauteruccio. Mix in the holding midfielders Javier Salas and Ivan Marcone -- hardly the most creative -- and center-back back Julio "Cata" Dominguez filling in at right-back to hold Diego Lainez.
Jose Mourinho's influence on Caixinha could certainly be seen and it seemed like the Portuguese manager was fully aware of the problem as he sent on Alvarado at half-time and then Andres Renteria soon minutes after his team went behind.
Club America chased the goal much more than Cruz Azul in the first half and at least managed a shot on target in the first 45, but even Herrera wasn't for letting the brake off completely and throwing caution to the wind. Playing Guido Rodriguez and Alvarez as holding midfielders in front of the back four was likely a tool to stop Cruz Azul's main weapon: the direct balls into Caraglio. In Herrera's defense, he has previously been criticized for not adapting and his team was the deserved winner.
The second half at least livened up, but given Liga MX's reputation as a league that allows attacking play to flourish and brings excitement, this final was a major disappointment.