Top-seeded América is not only taking on a determined Toluca side, it is also wrestling with its own recent history.
Just a year ago, the Aguilas entered the Liga MX playoffs as the No. 1 seed only to get embarrassed by the 11th-seeded Pumas in the quarterfinals. “Los Azulcremas” were the No. 2 seed the season before and stepped on a rake in the quarterfinals against Pachuca.
But history does not mean I’m able to predict the future. Plus for the past two months this América club has been a juggernaut … until Wednesday’s 2-1 loss at Toluca, its first setback in 15 games.
Fernando Ortiz’s men had been on a 13-1-0 run when they got their noses bloodied at “La Bombonera” but we know they are capable of putting the ball in the net (ask Puebla) so a 1-goal deficit is hardly intimidating.
‘Tano’ tweaks his line-up
Although playmaker Diego Valdés turned in a sub-par performance in the first leg, coach Ortiz will start the Chilean midfielder in support of striker Henry Martín and peripatetic winger Alejandro Zendejas.
Instead, the América coach will insert newcomer Brian Rodríguez in place of their splashy summer acquisition, Jonathan Rodríguez, a two-time Liga MX scoring champ. “Cabecita” has not scored since Sept. 7, however, and he has just 6 goals and 0 assists since joining from Saudi club Al-Nassr FC on a four-year deal.
The rest of the line-up will remain unchanged though “Tano” and Aguilas fans will hope to see more participation from midfielder Álvaro Fidalgo.
The visiting Diablos Rojos will probably stick to a 4-4-2 with midfielders Claudio Baeza and Marcel Ruiz being called upon to slow down the expected América assault on goalkeeper Tiago Volpi.
Much will be asked of central defenders Valber Huerta and Haret Ortega while Volpi will try to replicate his Clausura 2015 performance when he almost single-handedly carried Querétaro to the Finals.
The key match-up could be down the América right flank where Toluca defender Carlos Guzmán must contain the frisky Zendejas.
One final consideration: the Aguilas have the advantage off the bench if in-game changes are necessary. Roger Martínez and Federico Viñas are in fine form should “Tano” need to push forward for a goal and Bruno Valdez is available if América needs to protect a lead late.
As for Toluca’s Ignacio Ambriz, his options are not as dynamic. Forward Daniel “Fideo” Álvarez and midfielder Fernando Navarro are his offensive choices, while fullback Raúl López is about it as far as defenders go.
Liga MX Playoff trivia
Apropos of nothing, Toluca has knocked América out of the Liga MX playoffs in five of nine postseason meetings. Three times the Diablos Rojos and Aguilas have clashed in the semifinals with “Los Choriceros” advancing to the Liga MX Final twice. The most recent Toluca-América Liguilla battle came in the Apertura 2018 quarterfinals with the Aguilas advancing.