At first glance, things would seem to be going well for Club America in the Apertura 2014. Two wins in two games meets the expectations of what even the most demanding fans would wish. However, there's a palpable undercurrent of worry among supporters, given the performances of the squad thus far.
If not for the efforts of Club America's Paraguayan players, Osvaldo Martinez and Pablo Aguilar, it's likely the club would only claim one point in the league table, instead of the six it now holds. Both players scored the winning goals in the past two games.
What's disconcerting is that neither player was expected to be the hero, and it's probably unfair to expect them to continue in that role.
Sure, it's great when a surprise comes along to save the team, like Moises Munoz in the Clausura 2013 championship game, but it's another thing altogether to start counting on that to happen. For one thing, it's unrealistic. For another, it runs counter to the whole ethos of America. This team is supposed to be so good that it doesn't need miracles. It should win simply on being the best.
Getting to the top of the Liga MX mountain in 2013 may have cost America something crucial, however. Coach Miguel Herrera was wooed from the club for his dream job -- coaching Mexico's national team. Sure, he finished out the year with Las Aguilas, but he was clearly distracted juggling the dual responsibilities. It was probably to be expected that America would fall short in the final championship match against Leon and its canny coach, Gustavo Matosas. In a rather ungracious exit, Herrera left the club stage to join the national team sputtering and pouting.
Antonio Mohamed has taken Herrera's place in charge of the club, but not in the hearts of the fans -- or likely, the players on the field. Mohamed's job was made even tougher when, in contrast to America's quick exit in the last liguilla, Herrera won fans throughout El Tri's run at the World Cup. Mohamed may stand three inches taller than Herrera, but it's Piojo's shadow that looms large in Estadio Azteca, which both Club America and El Tri call home.
The national team was actually supposed to aid Club America, given the strong connection between the two. Herrera's squad that gained qualification to Brazil 2014 was so stocked with Aguilas players (seven starters) that it was nicknamed "TriAmerica." The international tournament itself was supposed to give the America players important experience.
Yet it also put young players into the worldwide shopping window. The possibility of a transfer to Europe has proved to be a distraction for young forward Raul Jimenez, as even Mohamed admitted recently. An acceptable offer from Porto never quite materialized, however, and it now appears that Jimenez will finish the year with America.
World Cup-induced fatigue might also explain Oribe Peralta's lack of production. The veteran was expected to slot in and start scoring goals in the same impressive manner as he has for Mexico, but that simply hasn't happened yet. He even missed a sitter in the team's most recent match against Tijuana. Granted, there's usually an adjustment period for a new signing, but many thought Peralta's experience with the Club America contingent of El Tri would help negate or drastically shorten that learning curve.
Working under Mohamed is not the same as working under Herrera, though. The blustery coach has yet to prove that his players are fully on board with his style and approach to the game. These early wins may just be papering over the cracks in team cohesion and functionality.
There may also be too many cooks in the kitchen, or to be more accurate, too many captains on the field. Paul Aguilar, Miguel Layun, Juan Carlos Valenzuela and Rubens Sambueza are all, at least nominally, team captains. It's not unusual for a team to name more than one captain, especially if the squad has a regular captain suffer an injury, or if a veteran leader is cutting back on minutes in favor of blooding younger players. So while a single captain is the most common leadership role for a squad, co-captains do exist. A trio of captains is more unusual. A quartet is unprecedented. At that point, the role becomes almost meaningless.
This week, Club America faces a ghost of its own past in Cuauhtemoc Blanco, who may play against his old squad on Puebla's behalf on Saturday. Blanco was for years the pride of Las Aguilas -- brought up to the first team from inside its "nest," as the developmental program is known.
Puebla is fighting relegation, and Blanco is far past his prime. The game should be an easy victory for Club America. Anything less would give credence to the anxious thought that the team's unresolved issues are starting to fester.