America starts poorly, but too early to panic
Club America is the champion of CONCACAF, was a semifinalist in the previous tournament and has won more titles than any other Mexican team.
So when Las Aguilas started the season with a 0-0 draw against Puebla in the Estadio Azteca, the reaction was harsh. "They didn't lose because of a miracle," was Record's headline. Esto labeled America's start, along with fellow capital clubs Pumas and Cruz Azul, a nightmare.
There's extra pressure both inside and out on manager Nacho Ambriz and his charges this season. It's the 100th year of existence for America, and the club is celebrating with special logos and events (and apparently a price hike in concessions and tickets, much to fans' dismay).
Tú eres parte de la Generación Centenario. Con ustedes el logo oficial de #100AñosDeGrandeza pic.twitter.com/yFAqFULbhY
— Club América (@ClubAmerica) January 9, 2016
Though it seems like a somewhat arbitrary goal, Pachuca and Chivas both celebrated 100 years with a title. Ambriz deflected when asked about pressure after the match.
"The pressure has been here since I arrived. I'm not disconnected to what you're thinking — this team needs immediate results," Ambriz said. "Today we got a point, although that doesn't count for much here. You have to win. We're required to play better to be in the top spots."
The miracle that kept America in the match was goalkeeper Moises Munoz. The goalkeeper had been criticized this winter after contributing to America's collapse at the Club World Cup but made six saves to keep his clean sheet and send Puebla home with just a draw Saturday.
The goalkeeper was called into action early and often as Pablo Marini's men pressured the right side of America's defense. It wasn't exactly a stroke of genius from Marini to target Ventura Alvarado and Erik Pimentel, both of whom were filling in for regulars. Right back Paul Aguilar was missing with an injury, while center back Paolo Goltz served a suspension.
Those players will be back, and Munoz won't be called into action quite as often. Ambriz's winter signings Brian Lozano, who after his substitute appearance said he struggled playing in Mexico City's altitude for the first time, and William da Silva will integrate into the squad.
America is a confident club whose fans thrive off telling rivals to "hate them more" because of the success they've had. That includes a record 12 league titles. Getting another in either this tournament or the next and becoming the third club to do so in the 100th year won't happen if America plays like it did Saturday.
But it's too early to write off America. We've seen one match, 90 minutes. The defense will sort itself out. The attack, which should be high-powered thanks to three of Liga MX's highest-paid attackers, is a bigger concern. Rubens Sambueza also was serving a suspension, and his return will be a boost. Oribe Peralta, Darwin Quintero and Dario Benedetto had an off-match in round one. If it continues, it might cost Ambriz his job.
All scores from Round One
- Chivas looked like they might turn the corner this tournament, but the opening match against Veracruz was a bitter one. With the Tiburones Rojos midfield destroyer Gabriel Penalba sent off for a second yellow, a card he was given for what the referee ruled to be simulation, Chivas should've taken control. To some extent, they did. Carlos "Gullit" Pena already had opened his account, and though Veracruz equalized, Chivas went back in front thanks to Eduardo Lopez's clever work forcing an own goal. Veracruz made something out of nothing, though, and Julio Furch scored another equalizer. The match was frustrating for the Guadalajara side, but perhaps said more about Veracruz's status as a contender than Chivas. "I'm happy with my guys," Veracruz manager Carlos Reinoso said after the match. "I think we're going to be a tough team."
- Tijuana had a similar match in its Clausura opener, which saw Miguel Herrera debut as Xolos manager. The home side jumped out to an early lead and had a man advantage for much of the match but couldn't hold off Pachuca. The teams ended up splitting a point. "I'm happy," new Pachuca defender Omar Gonzalez told reporters after the game. "We leave here with a point, and playing with 10 players everybody played really well, with a lot of passion."