Chivas can create history with Copa MX win on home soil against Morelia
GUADALAJARA - Estadio Chivas is one of Mexico's best sporting venues and home to arguably the country's most popular soccer team. But filling the 45,000-capacity stadium and generating a real buzz around Guadalajara has proven difficult since its inauguration against Manchester United back in 2010.
Admittedly, the stadium's facilities, a better product on the field, the transport options available and the way fans have become more accustomed to traveling to an almost U.S.-style venue outside the city's beltway -- rather than to the more centrally located Estadio Jalisco -- have improved the atmosphere substantially.
But what "La Fortaleza Rojiblanca," as the club labels Estadio Chivas, really needs is to create some history of its own -- to give it a sense of belonging in the hearts of Chivas fans.
On Wednesday, Chivas will have their first opportunity to do just that when they host Morelia in the Copa MX final. It will be the second major final at the venue and the first to offer El Rebano Sagrado a chance to win a trophy on home soil.
Chivas have played in two Copa MX finals since Matias Almeyda took over in Sept. 2015, winning one and losing the other, but all three were away from Estadio Chivas.
"This final is very important because above all it is at home, with our people," said California-born Chivas defender Miguel Ponce ahead of the match. "We're going for a title at home."
Chivas are certainly the favorites to lift the trophy. Both finalists have tended to field weakened squads in this competition, making their paths to the final quite remarkable, and on Wednesday Chivas and Morelia are set to start with alternative teams to the ones regularly seen in Liga MX play.
From the Chivas point of the view, Almeyda is desperate to foster competition in the squad and the cup has offered a chance for the fringe players to prove themselves and put pressure on established starters. Chivas' recent cup success -- the side hasn't lost over 90 minutes in the competition since July -- has highlighted just how much deeper and rounded the squad is from when Almeyda took over the club.
For Morelia, the Copa MX has been a chance to divert attention away from the relegation struggle. Coach Roberto Hernandez has rested his regular starters, but the reserves have managed to overcome Club Tijuana, Toluca and Cruz Azul.
With Chivas at home and an expectant crowd behind them, Morelia has nothing to lose, as avoiding relegation is the be-all and end-all in the next few weeks.
"In the cup we've played against Toluca in a full stadium and against Tijuana as well, where they were favorites and very strong at home," said Morelia defender Facundo Erpen on Monday. "We played great games and hopefully that repeats itself on Wednesday."
The team from Michoacan is just one point above last-placed Veracruz in the relegation table and is set to travel to Guadalajara on Tuesday without Liga MX regulars.
The onus will be on Chivas to take the game to Morelia, as Almeyda's side does to most opposition teams, although Guadalajara isn't in the best of form, having been defeated 3-0 by Tigres and held scoreless in a draw with Pachuca over the last week.
Lifting the cup would give Chivas a huge boost of confidence and momentum as the Liga MX 2017 Clausura regular season moves on to the Liguilla. Chivas are currently in third and virtually already qualified, but Almeyda will want to potentially have the chance of an historic league and cup double.
A loss wouldn't burst the Chivas balloon entirely, but it would raise question marks as the team enters the playoffs. Failing here would be seen as a missed opportunity to lift some silverware in a stadium that needs it against a Morelia side with its attention firmly elsewhere.
Chivas: Miguel Jimenez, Jesus Sanchez, Carlos Salcido, Hedgardo Marin, Miguel Ponce, Michael Perez, Orbelin Pineda, Eduardo Lopez, Nestor Calderon, Angel Zaldivar, Alan Pulido
Morelia: Carlos Sosa, Carlos Morales, "Nacho" Gonzalez, Erpen, Gerardo Rodriguez, Juan Pablo Rodriguez, David Cabrera, Mario Osuna, Cristian Penilla, Miguel Sansores, Gaston Lezcano
Tom Marshall covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MexicoWorldCup.