Cruz Azul recently pasted América 4-0. Should you feel pity for them? Definitely not. The Aguilas still sit on top of Liga MX with 26 points from 12 games. In the last few years under former coach Miguel Herrera, they become a fixture in the later rounds of the playoffs. Last year, América defeated Cruz Azul on penalty kicks to tie Chivas’ record for most league titles, initiating a symbolic shift for Mexican fans. The rich, cosmopolitan chilangos were on par with the Mexican-only club.
Most fans were pretty pissed. Either you love América, or you hate it. A bit of geography and history explain why.
Mexico City, known as the Distrito Federal or “D.F.”, is the capital of Mexico, a city more populous than New York and built on a sinking, filthy lake bed. Club América is based in this over-sized ant farm, and just like in the States, folks from other regions view the country’s biggest city (and Club América) with a mix of anger and awe.
In the early 1990s, when NAFTA spread riches to Mexico, cities and regions felt that government in Mexico City charged too many taxes and failed to provide valuable services. Things got so heated that banners proclaiming “Salva la patria – Mata a un chilango” (“Save the country – kill someone from Mexico City”) could be seen from Saltillo to Tijuana.
On the other hand, just like New York, the D.F. also offers a sense of opportunity to outsiders. Every year, scores of Mexicans move to the D.F. in hopes of finding employment and lot in life. Also, the D.F. is indisputably the cultural center of Mexico – this is where Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo cooled their heels, and where Cantinflas created films that launched perhaps Latin America’s largest film and TV industry.
For every Mexican who complains about chilangos, somebody’s relative has moved there for work or school. Similarly, for every Liga MX fan who detests Club América, some other villa melon (bandwagon fan) is a die-hard Club América fan.
If you have no soul and only care about success, you can hardly blame fans for liking Club América. It is one of only two teams to have never been relegated from the top flight, and, for decades, the club has been the plaything of the super wealthy. In 1959, the club was bought by Emilio Azcárraga Milmo, the owner of Televisa, whose words were eerily prophetic: “I do not know much about football, but I do know a lot about business, and this, gentlemen, will be a business.”
Then, in 1966, came Estadio Azteca – a massive, cavernous temple that holds 100,000 spectators. In the inaugural game, Club América tied Italian club Torino, 2-2, but within that game was a quality that set America apart: Both goals were not scored by Mexicans, but rather Brazilians. The Aguilas eschewed Chivas’ notion that Mexicans should play in the Mexican league for Mexican clubs; instead, they bought the best and most expensive South Americans they could afford.
And they started to win. In the 1960s, América won back-to-back Copa MX titles, setting the stage for a modest success that was followed by utter domination. Aguilas fans fondly recall the 1970s, when their club won two league titles and Enrique Borja generally kicked some ass. By the 1980s, the club was in the middle of its epoca dorada (golden era). Though the 1982 team failed to win, a squad nicknamed Super Aguilas played smashing soccer.
The Aguilas won the league three consecutive years — 1983, 1984, and one of the shortened 1985 tournaments (the first time Mexico divided the league into two shorter ones) — with South American signings sparking the club’s success in the decades that have followed. From Claudio “El Piojo” López to Salvador Cabanas to Christian “Chucho” Benítez, the América board casts a wide net in the Southern Hemisphere.
The current roster, however, has a decidedly local flavor. From target forward Oribe Peralta to run-till-your-lungs-burst Miguel Layún, the Aguilas have plucked the stars from the national team who plied their trade at rivals. Yes, star players like Raúl Jiménez and Memo Ochoa have moved on to Europe, but that transfer money only goes back into the club. Grupo Televisa certainly doesn’t need it, leaving América with the means to bring in la selaccion’s biggest stars.
All of which returns us to a one simple fact: The club maybe be able to win games, but it’ll never claim our hearts. For non-Club América fans, the team sucks because it either only signs expensive foreigners (and is “anti-Mexican”) or it steals other clubs’ best players with tantalizing contracts.
For fans in the U.S., imagine the Yankees of decades past with no salary cap and no luxury tax. And relegation instead of a redistributive draft. They’d sign your team’s best player, win the World Series, and then you’d find yourself in the second division.
In sum, hate América because the club’s richer than yours. Hate it because it gets to write its own rules. What’s more obnoxious than that?