Fickleness, thy name is Club América. In two (shortened) seasons at the D.F. club, Argentine manager Antonio “El Turco” Mohamed led the club to first the playoffs and then eventually a Liga MX title. However, the coaching carousel in the capital stops turning for no man. When hot commodity of the moment Gustavo Matosas resigned from León during the playoffs and became available, the writing was on the wall: Mohamed’s contract would not be extended at América regardless of if the Aguilas lifted the title (which they did).
When you look at Matosas’ record at León, it’s impossible not to fall in love with him. First, he coached them from the Liga de Ascenso to promotion in the top flight. Secondly, León’s run to the championship as the eighth seed in the 2014 Clausura was the classic underdog tale. However, in the cold light of day, do the numbers and tactics of Matosas support the belief he’s really the attacking-minded genius some want? Will Club América regularly knock in four goals a game, and will Oribe Peralta win the golden boot?
The answer is probably not. If you look at Matosas’ title-winning seasons at León, the team won based on defense, not offense. In 2013 Apertura, León conceded only 14 goals in 17 games (second best). In 2014 Clausura, it allowed only 17 goals in 17 games, a good defensive ratio considering Liga MX is an offensive-minded league. In that sense, his success came from not conceding goals, not throwing bodies forward. But, like all good coaches, could he adapt to the demands of the Azteca?
If Saturday’s América versus León goalfest is an indicator, this season will be a roller coaster for the Aguilas. On the positive side, América jumped out to an early lead and Peralta scored two goals. Thus, Matosas clearly had his side psychologically ready to go. On the negative side, America conceded two goals before the half, one a fluke of a comical own goal and the other because goalkeeper Moisés Muñoz failed to clear a free kick. How bad was it? A León attacker actually headed the ball of Munoz’s fists.
The truth is that León tore up the left side of America the entire game. Full back Miguel Samudio and left-sided attacker Darío Benedotto both barged forward with abandon, leaving the flank exposed and pulling central defender Pablo Aguilar and holding midfielder Moisés Velasco out of position. Matosas continued the transition started by El Turco from Herrera’s 3-5-2 to the more conventional 4-4-2; However, unlike El Turco, Samosas featured four offensive-minded players in the forward and wide positions, which left the backline and midfield at times overrun.
The game looked like an up-and-down English Premier League match, and Club América resembled the best Manchester United teams of old. The Aguilas landed a blow, got hit, got up, and landed another blow. And ultimately, thanks to Carlos Darwin Quintero’s winner, they landed an opening round victory, 3-2 over Matosas’s former club.
With Miguel Layún now gone, you can’t fault Matosas for switching systems to one that requires less demanding running on the flanks. In the game against León, the team also looked much better when midfielder Michael Arroyo came off, Benedotto moved up top, and Quintero shifted to the right flank. They still fielded a 4-4-2, but the left side solidified. Quintero’s lovely finish and the winner came from a counter as the Aguilas sat back and defended with better organization. Matosas got the win, but will this América be a seat-of-your-pants attacking team like the first half, or actually try to play balanced soccer in the second?
The only other notable games from the first week concern bottom-dwellers: Puebla, Chivas, Veracruz, and University of Guadalajara. Puebla won, Chivas lost, and the University of Guadalajara shockingly beat Monterrey. Thus, as things stand, Puebla and Chivas are bottom of the relegation table with an identical 88 points from 86 games. Both can only hope that Veracruz’s win over Santos was a fluke, or one of them will be sent down come the close of the Clausura.
Neutral North American fans look and wonder with aghast: how can a single medium-sized city (Guadalajara) have two first division clubs so close to relegation and mediocrity? Merit, my friends. Trial by fire; promotion and relegation. It’s a good thing there’s no shortage of tequila in Jalisco.