Chivas defeat America to reach Copa MX final, on course to wreck centennial
MEXICO CITY -- Club America is living through one of its worst chapters in recent memory, and the main perpetrator of its pain is none other than arch-rivals Chivas Guadalajara.
In front of its home crowd, America once again lost to Chivas, this time in the Copa MX semifinals, where El Rebano Sagrado beat Las Aguilas via the penalty spot 4-3 after drawing in regular time 1-1. For Chivas, it was the first time since 1943 that they were able to walk away with a Clasico Nacional win in Copa MX competition.
When Ricardo Antonio La Volpe got sporting president Ricardo Pelaez's call confirming that he would become Club America's new head coach on Sept. 22, he knew quite well that the likelihood of meeting Chivas in a Copa MX semifinal was high.
Close to a month after penning his name on the contract and agreeing to become Las Aguilas' head coach, Chivas came back to Estadio Azteca to play against America for a chance to meet Queretaro in the 2016 Apertura Copa MX final.
"I feel like my players are still hurt ([after the 3-0 Clasico Nacional loss on Aug. 27)," La Volpe told Univision Deportes on Monday.
"We have to show that we can be better than them, and we plan on doing it. We have to be smart, without a doubt. The team will be different, and we'll likely have a better control of the match, but they will keep having more speed."
La Volpe's initial readings went according to plan in the first 45 minutes of the match on Wednesday night in front of an almost sold-out crowd. Chivas finished the first half with 60 percent possession of the ball, but it was Las Aguilas who walked into the tunnel with a 1-0 lead after a Michael "Miky" Arroyo goal, his fourth in four consecutive matches.
The control La Volpe was talking about wasn't exactly one that would see his team have most of the ball possession. Instead, it was a control of the scenery and ability to take in the hard hits that would come from Chivas' attack.
Chivas' XI included seven players who have not been regular starters, however, the team's common attacking style was still persistent.
La Volpe's strategy to beat Chivas on the counter backfired as Chivas was the team that dictated the game, while America became excessively dependent on Arroyo's moments of genius.
To be exact, America's only attack in the entire match was produced by the Ecuadorian, while Chivas kept bolstering its own by sending regular starters like Isaac Brizuela and Orbelin Pineda onto the pitch for the last 30 minutes of the match.
After the match, Chivas coach Matias Almeyda emphasized his players' attitude and how they can be compared to many of Mexico's successful boxing legends.
"That special energy, the union, sacrifice, desire to succeed and their humility stand out," said Almeyda.
"We see them every day and witness their predisposition; it's admirable, and it's why we're on this road that's making us achieve things.
"When I compare my players to boxers, it's because I'm very proud of them."
Alan Pulido scored his fourth goal for Chivas to help the team take the game to penalties, but when it came time to score the final kick from the spot that could have sealed a place in the finals, he failed to convert.
From afar, he looked devastated. America's most criticized player as of late, Osmar Mares, stepped up to the spot to take the penalty that could have extended the shootout, but goalkeeper Antonio Rodriguez saved it.
That scene demonstrated that in critical times, when everything appears to be heading to the gutter, the players support each other. Rodriguez saved Pulido from a horrific night.
"We are hungry for success; we want to do great things like win titles," Brizuela said after the match. "We have a great coaching staff that transmits us a lot of desire to win.
"We're a really united team. We're a family."
After two consecutive defeats against Chivas, America's squad doesn't appear to boast of those same feel-good vibes.
What's more, Chivas are not just a family, they are a collective that's convinced that they will have to beat all odds to do the unthinkable and reach a potential Liga MX final come December.
Like Almeyda said, they're all boxers, who are not going to give up on the dream of not only winning the cup, but also winning a league title, something they haven't achieved since 2006.
And Chivas winning the league title in the year of America's centennial would certainly make 2016 one of the worst years in Club America's history.
Nayib Moran covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @nayibmoran.