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Dec 15, 2013

Majestic Leon, ugly press conference mark end of era at Club America

MEXICO CITY -- Leon had less than ten clear-cut chances on goal in the 180 minutes that encompassed the Liga MX Apertura 2013 final. They scored five. America easily had twice the total opportunities in front of William Yarbrough's net over the course of those same two games. They scored once.

In a nutshell, that tells the story of Club America's ultimately unsuccessful run towards history, and dashes the hopes of a fairy tale ending to an era that has rejuvenated the giant's standing as one of the top teams in Mexico and CONCACAF.

- Canales: Leon reigns supreme in Liga MX final

A lover of offensive tactics might lament Leon's victory given that their chance creation was decidedly less in the final than the prior 21 games they played this season, but in the end, the now six-time champs put away five superb goals that swung the balance of power in the league and gave fans of every other club except Club America a bit of happiness after it momentarily looked like the Eagles would claim the lone top spot in the pantheon of winners in the Liga MX.

Yes, Chivas fans can worry about one less thing tonight, as America won't best their 11 titles just yet. Sure, they have relegation and a bevy of mediocre signings to worry about for the Apertura 2014 campaign, but at least their hated rivals won't sow a twelfth star onto their uniforms.

Cruz Azul fans can bask in the glow that the team they themselves beat for their last league title (Dickensian coincidence, anyone?) in 1997 avenged their epic collapse in May and celebrated at the Estadio Azteca the way they planned to seven months ago.

Supporters of Pumas can continue to boast about their team being the only back-to-back winners since short tournaments were instituted in 1996. Sure, they might have had their worst season ever end mercifully just a few weeks ago, but their hated south side rivals' suffering is their schadenfreude until the Clausura 2014 kicks off.

After Leon's 3-1 romp at the Azteca and 5-1 aggregate over two legs, the official end of Miguel Herrera's tenure as America manager, as well as the presidency of former player Ricardo Pelaez, came with a sour taste, accentuated by Herrera’s outburst at referees at the post-match press conference.

"There's a bunch of mediocre people there, and someone needs to do something about it. Don't get me wrong, I'll say it again so you don't run with this: Leon won justly. But we didn't get the opportunities that could have changed the game thanks to those mediocre people," Herrera said about referee Roberto Garcia Orozco.

The now-officially Mexican national team manager also dug into the prevailing thought that Rubens Sambueza, a player widely known for tiffs with opposing players and referees, was being punished and not given key calls when physically pounded by Leon players over two legs.

"That's two penalties. They beat us by four goals, yes, but those penalties could have changed things. There was another one outside the box, he doesn't get the call. What did he get? A yellow card. Maybe we miss the penalties and the opportunities, who knows? But you have to at least get the calls to have the chance to fairly change the match," he continued.

Moments later, when pressed for further comments over officials, as well as the surprise inclusion of Ecuador international Narciso Mina into the starting lineup, Herrera cursed at a reporter and vacated the conference.

Mina, a backup to Raul Jimenez and Luis Gabriel Rey for most of the season, arguably had four clear chances to stamp his authority on the second leg. He missed every single one. A close friend of deceased America legend Christian Benitez, Mina came to the club after scoring 31 goals in the Ecuador first division in 2012.

In his year at the Mexico City club, he was unable to replicate that form, and punctuated his weak performance by erring consistently until subbed out by Rey after 66 minutes. A little over a half hour later, the Leon team, led by Rafael Marquez and manager Gustavo Matosas were dancing on the Azteca pitch, celebrating the team’s first title run in two decades.

Herrera, accompanied by Pelaez and assistant manager Santiago Banos, all architects of the team's prior success, vanished into the Mexico City night, now looking forward to their chance to make history with another squad: the Mexican national team.