Sometimes the ball literally bounces your way.
Several América efforts drew his attention, yet Santos goalkeeper Agustin Marchesín showed no signs of weakness. But then, in the 71st minute, a deflected cross fell to Michael Arroyo who knocked it past the onrushing Marchesín to give América a 1-0 victory.
Las Águilas remain in third place, behind only Tijuana and Veracruz in the Liga MX table. Yet needing a favorable bounce against a Santos team now on a six-match winless streak is the latest sign América is no lock to repeat as champion.
This is a team which should be rolling over Santos. Matosas himself alluded to that fact after the match, saying, “One must expect more from the great players América has.”
And América does have great players. The club used the funds it gained by selling players like Raul Jímenez to Atlético Madrid and Miguel Layun to Watford to in turn pilfer talent from smaller Mexican outfits like the Santos team it sneaked by Saturday and league leader Tijuana.
This team was always going to need a bit of transition time, with a dispute prompting Antonio Mohamed to leave the club after it won the Liga MX championship. The club did just about as well as it could have, replacing the man who just won the title with the one who had done it before that, former Leon manager Gustavo Matosas.
In the offseason, it acquired Carlos Darwin Quintero. A shifty and versatile player who has the vision to set up his teammates but also likes having a go himself, he worked very well with summer signing Oribe Peralta at Santos, but the two have yet to truly reconnect. Tijuana forfeited Argentines Dario Benedetto and Cristian Pellerano to the capital club, but both have been sidelined by injury.
Even with its full complement, América’s attack is an enigma. Like a degree plan for a liberal arts major, there is no chemistry. Last tournament, América scored 28 goals, second in the league. In this one it’s up to a baker’s dozen, still good enough to be in a tie for fifth. But five of those goals came in a goleada against Chiapas, and in four out of ten Clausura matches, America has failed to score at all.
The defensive situation is a bit more solid. Though Layun left in the winter, América has allowed only six goals, and has six clean sheets through 10 matches. Goalkeeper Moises Muñoz is one of the best in the league and inspires confidence in a back line that generally includes Paulo Goltz, who has been a revelation since joining from Lanús, and Aguliars Paul and Pablo (no relation). Depending on personnel and situation the defense at times has three men at the back and other times four. The aforementioned defenders, plus U.S.-eligible defender Ventura Alvarado and left-footed winter addition Miguel Samudio all play well with the ball at their feet and both get forward and transition well.
Perhaps that’s why despite the inconsistencies and unconvincing wins, América still feels like the favorite to win the Liga MX title. While Tijuana beat América earlier this tournament, questions linger about the Xolos’ back line and how the team will perform away from home – historically an Achilles heal. Veracruz sits second but showed some defensive vulnerabilities this weekend in a 3-1 loss in Tijuana. Cruz Azul looked poor at the back too, watching two goals fall after entering the break with a 2-0 lead.
While no one has been particularly convincing, América not only possesses that ‘big-club swagger’ that lends a tinge of authenticity to the “favorite” label, but it has impressed on occasion. It’s currently rampaging toward the CONCACAF Champions League title, beating Saprissa 3-0 on Costa Rican soil and following that up with a 2-0 triumph in the second leg. The 5-0 thumping of Chiapas teased at what the team could do, but it has yet to return to that height in league play.
Sometimes all it takes is for the ball to bounce your way. Truthfully, the ball bounces the way of the haves, which América certainly belong to, more often than it falls to the have-nots. With the club’s strong financial situation and the sheer number of weapons it has, don’t be surprised if the ball is bouncing its way more often than not when the significant matches arrive.