América has been dealing with a mounting injury list, yet remain near the top of the table.
The Aguilas of América were the last undefeated team in Liga MX until Atlas handed them a 3-0 beat down on Matchday 8. Their 4-3-1 record (15 points) has them in third place, just 2 points behind league-leading Querétaro.
Injuries were taking a toll on América’s physical style as players were being worn down from the added minutes they were forced to play and the Atlas match was the third game in seven days for the Aguilas. The feisty Zorros and their young legs ran América ragged by the end of 90 minutes.
The FIFA break couldn’t have come at a better time.
Even so, the Aguilas were perched neat the top of the table. But despite their privileged position in the standings, América scrambled to bolster their roster as the transfer window came to a close in early September. Management spoke of needing two or three players, a stance that seemed counterintuitive since the Aguilas had one of Liga MX’s biggest payrolls. But the problem wasn’t the players on their roster, it was their availability.
Aguilas forced to rely on kiddie corps
Thanks to the parade of injuries that wreaked havoc on the América roster during the season’s second month, coach Miguel Herrera granted debuts to four players during the Aguilas’ past three games. Israel García, 19, José Angel López, 20, Ramón Juárez, 18, and Paolo Ríos, 19, saw their first Liga MX action from Matchday 6 through Matchday 8.
During the previous four seasons since returning to América (Herrera was the Aguilas coach from the Apertura 2017 through the Clausura 2019), “El Piojo” had debuted six players total, only one of whom is still on the roster (Antonio López, though he is injured).
América survived a severe road test at the Tigres on Week 6, the veterans rose to the occasion and the kids earned some experience. A few days later, the Aguilas got a goal from the 20-year-old debutante José Angel López, but faded late, allowing the visiting Tuzos to equalize despite playing for 80+ minutes with a man advantage.
América was down 10 men by this point. In addition to the seven players in rehab, the Aguilas lost three key players to transfers – midfielders Edson Álvarez and Mateus Uribe, plus goalie Agustín Marchesín.
In post-game press conference after the tie against 10-man Pachuca, Herrera complained to reporters “you turn around and look at the bench and you got nobody. What adjustment could I make? Nothing.”
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Not a confidence-building comment to hear from your coach, but management was already working on addressing the player shortage.
Patching holes in the roster
Former Aguilas keeper and El Tri standout Memo Ochoa arrived to plug the gap left by Marchesín’s departure, but the spate of injuries took a toll on Herrera’s attacking options. Playmakers Gio dos Santos, Andrés Ibarguen and Nicolás Benedetti are expected later this month while strikers Nico Castillo and Henry Martín are in a race against time to return to fitness for the playoffs.
América added 23-year-old midfielder Richard Sánchez who played well with Paraguay during this past summer’s Copa América.
Then, América seemed to make a panic buy as the transfer window closed, bringing in Uruguayan forward Federico Viñas who is only 21 and has fewer than 50 first division games under his belt. The problem here is what the front office is saying to the academy products eager to get a chance to prove themselves. The unproven Viñas – basically the same age as the aforementioned academy players – will need time to adjust to the altitude in Mexico City and the style of play of his new club and of Liga MX (unlike the debutants who have been indoctrinated in the Aguilas Way). It seems rash, especially since some of the walking wounded are expected back in camp shortly after the FIFA break.
Playmakers Gio dos Santos, Andrés Ibarguen and Nicolás Benedetti are expected later this month while strikers Nico Castillo and Henry Martín are in a race against time to return to fitness for the playoffs.
Herrera will have to continue juggling his line-up and he might be forced to manage some players’ minutes to prevent injury relapses. And the schedule does him no favors. The Aguilas face the Pumas in their first game after the FIFA break – the always intense Clásico Capitalino – then take on league-leading Querétaro. Fortunately, both of those games are at home.