I’ve always wondered what would happen if the bears from Goldilocks sipped porridge and sat around watching a soccer game. Papa Bear, a Louis van Gaal disciple, would say “this team plays too defensively.” Mama Bear, ever the optimistic moderate, would proclaim “this team plays just right.” Baby Bear, exposed to José Mourinho at too young and impressionable age, would say “this team doesn’t play defensive enough.”
In the second leg of last night’s Liga MX final, Papa Bear would have been right. At least, in regard to Tigres. While the challengers boasted one of Liga MX’s best defenses this past season, as we noted earlier, goals win championships in Mexico, not clean sheets. Tigres beat Club América 1-0 on Thursday in leg one because rather than dropping deep, it advanced its lines and took the game to the Aguilas. Rather than wait for a sucker-punch, they came out swinging. Sunday at the Azteca, however, Tigres’ defensive lines dropped way too deep and, despite the tediousness of inaccurate cross after inaccurate cross, you always felt América would at least get a goal.
And it did. Still, in a two-legged tie, Tigres could win with a game-tying goal, which makes the decision by Hernán Burbano to pull down América wingback Miguel Layún on a breakaway all the more perplexing. Burbano had just entered the game. In two minutes of action, his sole contribution was a red card. Yes, he prevented a possible goal, but, with 30 minutes left, he put his team in a major hole. With only 10 men, you probably concede and lose; however, if Tigres went down 2-0 with a full squad, it could have tried to capitalize on América complacency to grab a late winner over the final half hour.
Then Tigres collapsed. Damián Álvarez got a red card for fighting, and keeper Nahual Guzmán got a red card for taking out a forward’s legs, even if said forward was probably five yards offside.
How bad did things get? Even Oribe Peralta scored. While Tigres was playing down a few men at the time, the tie technically was not over. A goal would have given Tigres the title. Still, Peralta was anything but clutch. For most of the night, he failed to find space, his movement was stagnant, and his decision-making was terrible. But ultimately, his late, right-footed bullet to the far post was excellent technique and positioning, even if fans have come to expect more.
So, Club América, the club you rightfully hate, is now the Rey of Liga MX, its 12 overall titles giving it one more than Chivas. However, it’s not all roses for the fans. Argentine coach Antonio (not Turkish but still nicknamed “Turco”) Mohamad is leaving the club, due allegedly to differences with the board. In reality, managers and boards disagree all the time. The difference is Club América cycles through coaches almost as fast as Real Madrid in the early 2000’s. When Gustavo Matosas resigned from Leon and became available in November, it was probably only a question of “when,” not “if.”
Still, soccer manager transfer scuttlebutt aside, the América victory also shows a darker side to sustained dominance: the perception of unfairness. If casual fans looked at the gamecast and stats and saw three red cards, they’d suspect foul play by a referee. For Tigres’ last red card, the Tigres keeper fouled the forward … but only after he was offside and the linesman missed the call.
And that’s the problem: América is so rich, so powerful, and so dominant that spotty refereeing combined with a cash advantage looks like collusion and corruption, even if it’s not. Rival fans feel slighted by economic disadvantages and express their anger at a poorly paid scapegoat: the ref.
Thus, América villamelones, rejoice – your team now has one more title than Chivas. At the next dinner party, rub it in the face of the Guadalajara villamelones. As for me, well, here’s hoping the soccer gods don’t press the “repeat” button for the coming Clausura.