América wants to double its fun but must remain injury-free in order to find its rhythm down the stretch.
América is confident it can become the first back-to-back Liga MX champions since the Esmeraldas of León repeated after the Clausura 2014. And coach Miguel Herrera is also under orders to complete the double by winning the Copa MX for the first time in 45 years.
But as “El Piojo” Herrera schemes for the upcoming schedule (vs Tigres, at Tijuana, vs Cruz Azul), he and management are holding their breath that their players return from international duty with no serious knocks.
Eight Aguilas are on international rosters for the March 18-26 FIFA break and three will square off on Tuesday when Mexico (Edson Álvarez and Jorge Sánchez) plays Paraguay (defender Bruno Valdez) in Santa Clara, California.
In addition, striker Nico Castillo scored against Mexico last Friday and Chile plays the United States on Tuesday. Winger Renato Ibarra played against the United States last week and Ecuador faces Honduras in New York City Tuesday. Also on national team duty are Guido Rodríguez and Agustín Marchesín with Argentina, and Mateus Uribe with Colombia.
Coach Herrera is hoping he’ll have the entire América roster at his disposal next week when the Tigres pay a visit to Estadio Azteca for a game that will have tremendous impact on the playoff seedings.
Considering that Uribe just returned after missing 6 weeks following foot surgery and Ibarra missed time with muscle strains last season, you can understand the apprehension at team headquarters in Coapa.
Herrera must do some tactical tinkering
Although “El Piojo” has a deep and talented roster to direct, he still needs time to find the ideal line-up. French striker Jeremy Menez recently returned after 8 months out following knee surgery, but another striker, Roger Martínez, has been laid up after a muscle strain.
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Captain Oribe Peralta is expected back soon after foot surgery, but his absence was covered by the acquisition of Chile’s Castillo who arrived after Week 4, as did playmaker Nicolás Benedetti. So the Aguilas still need time to get to know each other and this will impact Herrera’s attacking formation decisions.
While América is blessed with plenty of creative players in midfield (Ibarra, Benedetti, Sebastián Córdova and Andrés Ibarguen), unfamiliarity and injuries have clearly stunted offensive production and the team is nowhere near as potent as last season’s top-scoring title winners. The Aguilas are only 4-1-4 after a 2-0-0 start, with a –4 goal differential, primarily because the team has scored only 8 goals in the last 9 games. Even so, América is in a very respectable fourth place in our Power Rankings.
Facing a fresh opponent
The Tigres only have 3 players away on international duty so coach Ricardo Ferretti will be confident his players will be well-rested and well-prepared for the March 30 contest in Mexico City. Especially if last season’s leading scorer, André-Pierre Gignac, is fully healed. The Frenchman missed his team’s last three games, including both legs of the Concacaf Champions League quarterfinals. At the moment, it looks like Gignac’s knee is not 100%, so we might not see him in action Saturday and Tuca Ferretti prefers having him healthy for the stretch run rather than risking a setback in Matchday 12 of 17.
The Cats from Monterrey are in second place, even on points (26) with León, but trailing on goal differential. The Tigres have soared to the top of the standings by virtue of an 8-game unbeaten streak (7-1-0) in which they have outscored opponents 17-5.
América’s back-line choices don’t go as deep as other positions, so it will continue to rely on stout central defenders Emanuel Aguilera and Bruno Valdez, with midfielder Guido Rodríguez sweeping all comers away in front of them. Veteran goalie Marchesín will be called upon to keep order at the back and he will hope that shots can be kept to a minimum.
Of course, some pundits love to say that “good offense always beats good defense” and that’s where the speedy and creative Renato Ibarra and Andrés Ibarguen come in. And if midfielder Uribe is fit enough to play at least 45 minutes against the Tigres and win back his starting position down the stretch, the Aguilas transition game should be in fine form heading toward the playoffs.
So for now, coach Herrera can only hold his breath and might consider writing up his starting line-up in pencil.