America gains advantage over Tigres in CONCACAF Champions League
Club America carried out their gameplan to perfection on Wednesday, defeating Tigres 2-0 in the CONCACAF Champions League final first leg in Estadio Universitario.
The victory and away goals put Las Aguilas -- the reigning CCL champions -- in pole position to win the tournament in the return leg next Wednesday in the Estadio Azteca and represent the Liga MX and CONCACAF at the Club World Cup in December.
Here are three takes from a clinical performance from America:
1. Ambriz answers lingering questions
Club America manager "Nacho" Ambriz hasn't, to date, looked entirely comfortable in the position. And that largely stems from the poor performance in the Club World Cup last December and the 3-0 loss in the Apertura 2015 semi against Pumas. They both left a certain stigma about his team not doing it with the pressure on.
It's in that context that Wednesday's result must be appreciated.
America looked like an Ambriz side: well-organized defensively, hard-working and posing a constant threat on the break. Most importantly of all, the team got a fully-deserved win.
Despite the absence of six players -- including the influential Darwin Quintero and Paul Aguilar -- America smothered Tigres, who had 69 percent of possession, but didn't really have a clear idea of what to do with it.
America was the opposite. As soon as Las Aguilas won the ball, it was released swiftly and played forward at pace. Tigres' very high defensive line was left exposed as Andres Andrade enjoyed one of his very best games in an America shirt and Rubens Sambueza was his usual menacing self.
Dario Benedetto netted four minutes after halftime after some quite brilliant work from Oribe Peralta and Osvaldo Martinez. Martinez then turned scorer with a low shot from 25 yards in second half injury time.
Inbetween all that, America should've had another when Andrade steered the ball in after Tigres keeper Nahuel Guzman came flying out and got nowhere near the ball. Offside against Andrade was given, but TV replays showed it was a poor decision.
Even so, America goes back to Mexico City with not just a significant two-goal advantage, but the boost that Ambriz's reign may very soon bring a continental trophy and is beginning to make sense.
2. Gignac unable to inspire Tigres
Lots and lots of money has been spent at Tigres to create a team capable of regularly winning trophies. While splashing out isn't always a guarantee of success, it does bring a certain amount of expectation and pressure.
After falling against River Plate in the Copa Libertadores final last year and going on to win the Liga MX Apertura, more was expected here from a team with plenty of experience in big games.
Tigres simply weren't as good as America on the night and were worryingly porous in defense.
At the other end, a team boasting France international striker Andre-Pierre Gignac, Mexican wingers Jurgen Damm and Javier Aquino and Brazilian second-striker Rafael Sobis should create more.
As America relinquished the ball for much of the game, Tigres failed to find the inspiration and invention to capitalize. It looked -- and has looked a number of times of late -- as though the team from Nuevo Leon is tired and not really enjoying its football. The players don't seem to be having much fun.
The main criticism thrown at coach Ricardo Ferretti is that the team is too conservative considering the amount of talent there is on the field. The possession is too often of the stale variety, which seems to go against the logic of having flying wingers like Aquino and Damm.
But on Wednesday, it wasn't just the idea behind Ferretti's strategy that was out. The players must take a lot of the blame.
Gignac has rescued Tigres on a number of occasions -- including the semifinal against Queretaro -- but it wasn't difficult to feel sorry for the lack of service he received from the wide areas and there was no player from midfield showing the creative spark to open up an admittedly superb America defense. America's young goalkeeper Hugo Gonzalez was never really stretched.
Tigres shouldn't be written off even at 2-0 down, but the loss and its nature was a real kick in the teeth for an institution that has invested heavily in its playing staff.
3. Centennial celebrations coming good for Las Aguilas
America is set to qualify for the Liga MX Liguilla for the ninth consecutive occasion this Clausura and a CONCACAF Champions League title right before the domestic postseason would be a perfect boost, especially as this is the club's centennial year.
Even before the CCL knockout stages began, the tournament probably meant more to Las Aguilas than any other club left for that very reason. America oozes glamor, money, power and success and needs to show that off in its centennial.
Last time out in Japan at the Club World Cup this past December, Mexico's most successful team -- in terms of league titles -- crashed out against Guangzhou Evergrande in the quarterfinals. There is now a chance for revenge, should America avoid disaster next week against Tigres.
There has been a lot of talk about America and its powerful owners bringing in a star signing this summer and it is clear the club will make a big deal of the centennial celebrations in the second half of the year.
If America can get over the line against Tigres next week, an appearance at the Club World Cup would be the perfect way to wrap up 2016.
Tom Marshall covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MexicoWorldCup.