America has had a drama-filled offseason, to be sure. The turmoil began immediately after the club’s shock playoff elimination at the hands of bitter rivals Guadalajara when Fernando Ortiz stunned Aguilas Nation by quitting during his post-game press conference.
GM Santiago Baños was caught completely off guard as had been negotiating a contract extension for the popular coach. The situation became more astonishing when “Tano” accepted the Monterrey job just a few days later.
There was much speculation that Baños would be canned as well because America ownership – and its enormous fan base – demand hardware and it has been nearly five years since the Aguilas last lifted the Liga MX trophy.
Suddenly, “los Azulcremas” were in need of a coach and when Baños struck out with his initial targets, the pressure grew.
Aguirre, Alonso say no; Berhalter hedges his bets
The bitterness felt across the America landscape over Ortiz’s “betrayal” was multiplied when Baños came up wanting in the early weeks.
Former El Tri manager Javier Aguirre declined to listen to the pitch, opting to re-sign with Mallorca in La Liga. Diego Alonso, most recently Uruguay manager at Qatar 2022 and a young coach with experience in Liga MX, said no.
Other names floated by “those in the know” included former River Plate coach Marcelo Gallardo, Racing Club manager Fernando Gago, former Celta de Vigo coach Eduardo Coudet and Hernán Crespo, Argentines all.
Back in Liga MX, Andre Jardine worked hard to have his name linked to the job. Jardine led Brazil to Olympic gold in 2021 in Tokyo before landing in Mexico with Atlético de San Luis, a modest team that thrived under the Brazilian’s leadership.
Then 10 days ago, former Team USA boss Gregg Berhalter appeared close to arriving in La Coapa and there was an audible gasp. No American had ever managed in Liga MX and the Berhalter hire was being hailed as a coup for America.
But Berhalter dragged his feet because he was hoping to be re-hired by Team USA but Baños was reluctant to delay the decision because America had already started preseason training. A few days later, Berhalter signed a new contract with the U.S. Soccer Federation.
At the same time, Jardine was in Mexico City although he told reporters he was simply in town to renew his work visa. That turned out be subterfuge and the 43-year-old manager was hired after Baños worked out a buy-out with San Luis (said to be upward of $1.5 million).
America bosses make clear what they want
Shortly after signing his contract, Jardine high-tailed it to Utah where America was training as part of its Tour Aguila in the United States. The club played exhibition contests against Toluca (a scoreless draw on June 17) and Monterrey (a 1-0 loss to Ortiz and the Rayados on June 20).
Jardine and the Aguilas are back in Mexico City now and the new coach made it known that he wanted to “Brazilianize” the club. He urged Baños to sign players from his gold medal-winning squad but reports suggest the new manager could be in for disappointment.
“Los Azulcremas” have made one significant addition, bringing in right back Kevin Álvarez from Pachuca, but the 24-year-old won’t be available to start the season as he is with El Tri in the United States where he will participate in the Gold Cup.
There were also some subtractions from the team that entered last season’s playoffs with the No. 2 seed. Baños dealt back-up striker Federico Baños to León and sent midfield bulldog Pedro Aquino to Santos Laguna.
While the roster machinations continued, Jardine and his staff were formally introduced to the media at team headquarters. Ownership left no doubt what their expectations are as each coach was presented with a No. 14 jersey.
Although America leads Liga MX with 13 league titles, Emilio Azcárraga and Aguilas Nation want silverware each and every season.
The quest for No. 14 begins Friday, June 30, against FC Juárez. No doubt Estadio Azteca will be filled with boisterous supporters curious to see how Jardine