América reached its first Copa MX Final since 1991 with a dominating 4-0 victory over Tijuana who played with 10 men for more than 50 minutes.
The Aguilas scored early and late, making Tijuana pay for using an inexperienced line-up in their Copa MX semifinal. America will play the Final next week, but first these two teams will play again in a league match on Saturday in Tijuana.
Just 3 minutes in at Estadio Azteca, Tijuana’s young midfielder Kevin Balanta committed a foul on Renato Ibarra just outside the box to the right of goal. Tijuana goalie Miguel Lajud made the mistake of calling for only a one-man wall and 19-year-old José Hernández took advantage, firing home the free kick inside the near post as Lajud scrambled fruitlessly to cover.
As is mandated by Copa MX rules, both teams were using young academy team players and Tijuana coach Oscar Pareja went to extremes, resting most of his starters, perhaps deciding that the league match was more important.
Unfortunately for the Xolos, 19-year-old Daniel López looked like an academy player up against a senior team. Four times in the first 18 minutes, López was sent in behind the América defense with nothing to show for it. The first three times, he failed to get a shot on net and the fourth time, his attempted cross was blocked by his marker.
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In minute 21, Aguilas defender Emanuel Aguilar was forced off with a leg injury, an incident that could have repercussions down the road if it is a serious injury. His central defense partner Bruno Valdez was left off the roster for this game due to a leg injury he picked up on Saturday against the Tigres and is not expected to return for another week or more.
With a 1-0 lead, America played bully ball for a few minutes, fortunate that referee Roberto Ríos was too meek to brandish a yellow card for the rough play. But just as quickly, the Aguilas pulled back, perhaps recognizing that Tijuana could decide to play rough too.
In minute 36, Balanta – who had been having trouble clearing the zone in front of the back line, spraying errant passes that allowed America to keep the pressure on the Xolos – stamped on Guido Rodríguez’s ankle and was correctly shown a red card. Just like that, Tijuana was down to 10 men.
Five minutes later, Nicolás Benedetti stole the ball from Xolos defender “Topo” Valenzuela just outside the box, stopped, turned toward goal, sized up the keeper, then blasting a right-footer across Lajud and inside the far post.
It was 2-0 and the game was over, for all intents and purposes … or so it appeared.
Just 6 minutes after the break, second-half sub Fabian Castillo forced a fine save from América goalie Agustín Marchesín, but that was the high point of the second half for the Zolos. The Aguilas responded, pushing forward en masse and creating a wonderful scoring chance just minutes later only to see “Topo” Valenzuela intercept a cross that was headed toward two unmarked Aguilas at the back post.
Then, viewers were treated to some incredibly poor refereeing by Rios, a 36-year-old ref who was banished to Ascenso MX in 2016 after several very poor performances in Liga MX. First, Ríos ignored a clear foul by América’s Jorge Sánchez that might have led to a Tijuana breakout. Shortly thereafter, the Aguilas’ Henry Martín was ruled offside … on a throw-in!
With 5 minutes remaining, Martín converted a penalty to extend the Aguilas lead to 3-0. Seconds later, Martín completed the scoring with a spectacular goal. It’s definitely worth watching.
Andrés Ibarguen dribbled in from the right flank and found the striker all alone inside the box. Martín’s initial shot was blocked by Lajud as Martín fell over the Xolos defender who had tried to tackle Martín before he let fly. The rebound came straight back to Martín who was lying with his head toward goal. He deflected the ball with his head to his left side and somehow managed to get off a shot while laying prone on the ground, snapping the ball into the net.
América will play the winner of the Juárez-UNAM match in the Copa MX Final on April 10. The last time the Aguilas were in the Copa MX Final was in 1991 and América lost to the Leones Negros of UdeG.