Nicaragua's Real Estelí stuns America in Champions League opener

Monterrey kicks off CCL schedule with romp over Guatemala's Comunicaciones
America coach André Jardine was none too pleased with the performance he saw from his Aguilas during the first leg of their Concacaf Champions League series against Nicaragua's Real Estelí.
America coach André Jardine was none too pleased with the performance he saw from his Aguilas during the first leg of their Concacaf Champions League series against Nicaragua's Real Estelí. / Agustin Cuevas/GettyImages

Nicaraguan minnows Real Estelí shocked Liga MX champions America 2-1, while Monterrey routed Guatemala’s Comunicaciones 4-1 as Mexican teams kicked off their participation in the Concacaf Champions League.

America traveled to Central America as heavy favorites, but the Aguilas had their wings clipped by the club known as “El Tren del Norte.”

Sure, the Aguilas rested six starters, including their key midfield threesome of Diego Valdés-Álvaro Fidalgo-Jonathan dos Santos, but they did not look sharp and the Nicaraguans were grateful.

André Jardine’s men did manage a late goal that should make their task in the second leg next week a bit more easily. 

Loose play proves damaging to Aguilas

The early part of the match saw plenty of miscommunication and uncertainty. “Los AzulCremas” lacked the crisp, decisive ball movement that the aforementioned midfield trio consistently generates.

The Liga MX giants fell behind early thanks to a careless penalty by right back Emilio Lara and Real Estelí takes early lead. Byron Bonilla had dribbled to the touch line inside the box before whipping a centering pass with his left foot. Lara had his arm extended and it was an easy call. Bonilla converted the spot kick in minute 7.

Just the play before, Lara had conceded space for Bonilla to take a shot that buzzed past the right post. The mistake-prone Lara would be victimized again in the second half.

America seemed rather disinterested through the first 20 minutes.

It didn’t help that regular starters Alejandro Zendejas and Julián Quiñones were both off their game, missing passes and failing to create space. Zendejas missed a sitter at the back post in minute 20. The ball first zipped through the 6-yard box where an unmarked Illian Hernández whiffed with his right foot.

When the Aguilas did threaten, Real Estelí goalie Douglas Forvis was ready. He made a flying save of Richard Sanchez free kick destined for upper right corner in minute 41.

America takes another body blow

Just two minutes after the restart, the hosts went up 2-0 when Lara lost his man on a corner kick and defender Marvin Fletes bounced a header just inside the left post.

Shortly thereafter, Luis Malagón came up with a fantastic save at the far post to prevent a third. And once agin, Lara was the culprit. Bonilla beat the beleaguered Aguilas defender badly to find space to cross to the back side for a fast-closing Nicolás Maturana. Maturana’s low shot was palmed around the post by the diving Malagón.

Shortly thereafter, Lara was subbed out, Israel Reyes coming on to play right back. Diego Valdés also trotted onto the field and he was joined by Fidalgo.

Throughout the match, America seemed bothered by the quickness of the astroturf, but their real problem was the great tactical discipline demonstrated by Real Estelí. The hosts maintained effective defensive shape and gave Aguilas playmakers little space to operate. They closed down space rapidly and regularly deflected passes.

Late in the game as the hosts parked the bus, the America stars started to generate dangerous plays. Finally, in minute 90, they were rewarded with a cheap goal.

Valdés took a free kick that deflected off the Real Estelí wall, wrong-footing Forvis who was able to recover and block the shot. But he left a rebound and Quiñones pounced on the loose ball and poked it into the net.

A few minutes later, Forvis came up with a big save on another Valdés free kick and the game ended 2-1.

The two teams will settle this Round of 32 series at Estadio Azteca next Wednesday.

Big road win for Rayados

Monterrey scored three second-half goals to cruise to a 4-1 victory over Comunicaciones in Guatemala City. 

After a rough start that saw Monterrey keeper Esteban Andrade called upon to make three saves in the first 15 minutes of the match, Fernando Ortiz’s men settled down. 

The Rayados did get on the board first (a Germán Berterame header in minute 22) but went to the locker room all tied up as the hosts were playing well off the counter.

Monterrey dominated the ball (69 percent possession on the night) but that did not provide an advantage in offensive stats. Comunicaciones matched the Rayados with 8 shots on goal and Monterrey barely outshot the “Los Cremas” 16-15. And Andrade finished the game with six saves.

It didn’t take long for the Rayados to take control of the match … although not without a few glitches.

Arturo González tapped in from close range in minute 52 after a scramble inside the box to put the Liga MX club in front. In minute 69, Luis Romo stood on the line of the vacated net and bravely headed a Comunicaciones shot over the crossbar.

Two minutes later, Jesús Gallardo headed a corner kick into the net while moving away from the front post and the visitors closed out the scoring in minute 84 when Rodrigo Aguirre dived headward at a soft chipped pass from Gallardo and nodded the ball past the goalie.

Next. América acquires Dilrosun from Feyenoord. América acquires Dilrosun from Feyenoord. dark

The two teams play the second-leg at Estadio BBVA Bancomer on Thursday, Feb. 15.