América is two wins away from its first Copa title in 45 years. The Xolos of Tijuana are the first obstacle.
The Copa MX semifinals pit two border teams against two Mexico City teams as América hosts the Xolos of Tijuana in one semifinal Tuesday night while UNAM visits the Bravos of Cd. Juárez on Wednesday night.
América coach Miguel Herrera is on record saying the Aguilas must win the double to consider the Clausura 2019 a success. The defending league champions have not lifted a Cup trophy since 1974 and that 45-year drought is no longer acceptable for Aguilas management.
The Aguilas enter tonight’s match-up on a high after routing the second-place Tigres on Saturday night in their first game after the FIFA break. However, two key players will miss the game against the Xolos after exiting the Tigres game with injuries.
Striker Nico Castillo and central defender Bruno Valdez were both left off the semifinal roster, Castillo with a strained left hamstring and Valdez with muscle fatigue. Both saw action with their national teams during the FIFA break and the club announced that both will miss América’s Matchday 13 game in Tijuana.
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Herrera included Frenchman Jeremy Menez on the Copa MX roster, though it is not yet clear that he will start. Menez returned from an 8-month injury absence last month following ACL damage to his left knee.
Tijuana will take the field at Estadio Azteca trying to shake off the disappointing loss at Querétaro on Saturday. The Xolos appeared listless against the last-place Gallos Blancos and were shut out for the second time in three league matches.
Before losing 4-0 at Pachuca on Matchday 10, the Xolos had climbed into fourth place but after the 1-0 loss to Querétaro they fell into ninth, slowing their pursuit of a playoff spot. Knowing that they must play América again on Saturday (in Tijuana), the Xolos will be eager to show they can play with the powerful Aguilas.
In a scheduling oddity, the semifinal pairing marks the second straight time América will have to face the same opponent in a league match immediately after playing them in the Copa. The Aguilas defeated the Chivas 2-0 in a Copa MX quarterfinal on March 13, then beat them 2-0 again in a Liga MX match on March 16.
UNAM at Juárez
The Pumas are in the midst of a disappointing league season and they would like nothing better than to defeat América in the Copa MX Final. To do that, they must first beat the Bravos at Estadio Olímpico Benito Juárez.
The second-division Bravos are struggling in the Ascenso MX, stuck in 13th place and 4 points out of a playoff spot with only three games remaining. Last season, Juárez finished in first place but lost in the semifinals to Diego Maradona’s Dorados of Sinaloa. The Bravos also enjoyed a respectable showing in the Copa MX last season, defeating América in the Round of 16 before losing to eventual Cup champions Cruz Azul in the quarterfinals.
Meanwhile, the Pumas are in 14th place in the Liga MX standings, 6 points out of a playoff spot with five games remaining. UNAM has had trouble scoring this season, recording only 13 goals in 12 matches, a far cry from last season when they boasted the league’s third best scoring offense.
The story has been different in the Copa, however. The Pumas have scored at least 2 goals in each of their last 5 Cup matches, winning their last two games by the same 3-0 scoreline. Juan Iturbe has been their sparkplug, scoring 4 goals to lead the team.
The game against Juárez will be the fourth straight Cup match against second-division teams for the Pumas. They defeated the Leones Negros in their final group stage match, then beat Zacatepec in the Round of 16 before knocking off the Dorados in the quarterfinals.