Can anyone in Liga MX stop Club America?
Early, much earlier than we imagined, the Liga MX has once again turned into a "battle zone." And the enigma, the riddle, the very essence of the game can only be summarized in one way: Who can stop America?
The ups and downs of the regular season, however, always leave a lot of unanswered questions, and the popular notion is that once the playoffs begin, the league gets a fresh start and anything can happen. The best example was provided by Leon in the previous tournament. The champs qualified for the playoffs after a lackluster campaign and surprised everyone in the elimination rounds by winning their second consecutive title. We can take that story to heart, but we can also consider that the numbers, the cold hard facts, make America captain and commander of the tournament, and they are the big favorites to take the title.
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The problem for the teams chasing America is that Antonio Mohamed's squad has become a "cool and calm" team. They may not show much emotion, but they make few mistakes, and in the end, the confidence radiates through the team, its fans and its publicists. America is a pragmatic, confident squad that doesn't take risks or arouse much excitement. It plays to win and takes the points. So far the tournament bears their seal, their features, their scent, their image.
But let's not make a big deal out of it. Since soccer was invented, America has always been a natural title contender, competing as they are now or perhaps sometimes with less effectiveness. The true challenge for America begins when the starting whistle blows in the quarterfinals, not during match week seven, 10, 13 or 17.
The mediocrity of teams on par with America in terms of media coverage and fan base -- and here we must include Chivas, Cruz Azul and Pumas -- doesn't help very much, but that doesn't mean that other teams like Toluca, Tigres or Monterrey, which have demonstrated certain bravery and ability during the tournament, can't pose a threat for America.
The tournaments in Mexico, as opposed to those in South America and Europe, are rarely conquered from beginning to end. We've even invented a stigma, a "curse" that says the regular-season leader doesn't win the title.
And if America desires a challenge, there will surely be opponents. Any one of them -- Jose Cardozo's squad at Toluca, Tuca Ferretti's Tigres, Carlos Barra's Monterrey or even Tomas Boy's Atlas -- could, in an all or nothing match, be the hero of the day. And if not them, it may very well be America who assumes the role of the "big club" that always succeeds in imposing their style of play in the end: the famous and oft-invincible "FC Hot and Cold."
David Faitelson is based in Los Angeles and co-hosts "Nacion ESPN," ESPN Deportes' version of "SportsNation." Follow him on Twitter @Faitelson_ESPN.