América is gunning to become the first-ever No. 6 seed to win a Liga MX championship.
When the Apertura 2019 Gran Final kicks off tonight, América’s primary goal will be to extend its league-record haul of championship trophies. The Aguilas currently own one more Liga MX trophy than Guadalajara, and a victory over Monterrey at Estadio Azteca will give them 14.
But if they are holding up the trophy on the pitch of the Colossus of Santa Ursula at the end of the night, they will be “historic” in other regards, too.
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Never has a No. 6 seed won the league championship and the Aguilas are determined to dispense with that jinx. The last time a sixth-seed reached a Liga MX Final was in the Clausura 2015 season and the circumstances were eerily similar. The Gallos Blancos of Querétaro finished that regular season in sixth place and reached the Final, only to lose to the No. 8 seed, Santos Laguna.
Back then all the lower seeds advanced to the semifinals as Nos. 1, 2, 3 and 4 were bounced in the first round. The same thing occurred in the Apertura 2019.
The parallel continued in the semifinals as the No. 6 knocked out the No. 7 … in the exact same fashion. In both seasons, the No. 7 seed (Pachuca in the CL15 and Morelia this season) won at home 2-0 in the first leg only to have the No. 6 seed match them with a 2-0 win in the second leg. The result favored the higher seed.
In 2015, eighth-seeded Santos smashed Querétaro 5-0 in the first leg and the Gallos Blancos were only able to make a small dent in the deficit, winning the return match 3-0, but succumbing on a 5-3 aggregate. This time around, No. 8 Monterrey has fashioned a slim 2-1 lead at home and América must win by two goals to take home the trophy. A one-goal win would force overtime and a shoot-out if the aggregate score were to remain all even.
Aguilas poised for another comeback
Overcoming first-leg deficits is not out of the question for the resilient Aguilas. América overcame first-leg deficits in the quarterfinals and the semifinals. The No. 3 seeded Tigres defeated América 2-1 in Estadio Azteca but Miguel Herrera’s boys rallied to stun the Tigres in the Estadio Universitario by a 4-2 scoreline, advancing on a 5-4 aggregate.
In the semifinals, as mentioned above, América overturned a 2-0 first-leg deficit to advance to the Finals. So it does not seem like a big ask for the Aguilas to reverse the 2-1 score from Thursday night.
If the Aguilas claim their 14th league title with a comeback effort, they will be the first team since the short seasons were instituted in 1996 to overcome first-leg deficits in the quarterfinals, semifinals AND finals.
The only team to accomplish that feat thus far in Liga MX history is Puebla. Back in the 1982-83 season, the No. 3 seeded Camoteros snuck past No. 6 UAG by winning the second leg 3-0 at Estadio Cuauhtémoc after falling 2-1 to the Tecos – the fifth seed – in the first leg. In the semifinals, Puebla lost to UdeG 0-1 but erased that deficit at home in the second leg with a 4-2 win.
Puebla claimed its first-ever league title by defeating the No. 7 seed Chivas in the Final. The Camoteros lost the first leg at Estadio Jalisco 2-1, then equalized with a 1-0 win at home, eventually winning the championship in a shoot-out. Manolo Lapuente was Puebla’s coach and he led the Camoteros to their only other league title (1989-90), too.
Rallying to victory is in their genes
Lest you think overcoming a deficit three times in one playoff run is extraordinary, a glance back at América’s history will suggest otherwise.
Five previous times the Aguilas have taken the field in the second leg of a Final facing a deficit and come away with the trophy.
Back in 1985, Tampico crushed América 4-1 in the first leg but Ricardo Peláez, Eduardo Bacas, Ramón Ireta and Bacas again turned the tables in Estadio Azteca and the Aguilas came away with a 5-4 aggregate victory.
After the 1987-88 season, UNAM took a 1-0 lead into Estadio Azteca for the second leg of the Final only to be stomped 4-1.
In the Verano 2002 season, Necaxa took the first leg 2-0 only to be stunned by América in the return match as the Aguilas knotted the score during regulation then won on a Golden Goal by Hugo Castillo. América was nominally the visitor in the second leg but both games were played in Estadio Azteca since the Rayos also played their home games there.
In the Clausura 2013, Cruz Azul defeated América 1-0 at home then scored again after Aguilas midfielder Jesús Molina was red-carded. Despite being down 2-0 and down a man, América fought back to earn a tie then claimed another league trophy from the penalty spot, winning the shoot-out 4-2. That was Miguel Herrera’s first Liga MX title as coach.
After the Apertura 2014 season, the Aguilas lost at the Tigres 1-0 in the first leg, then crushed the Tigres 3-0 in the return leg at Estadio Azteca. América’s coach that season was Antonio Mohamed.
To be sure, an Aguilas comeback is not a foregone conclusion. In the Clausura 2007 (vs. Pachuca) and in the Apertura 2013 (vs. León), América was unable to overturn first-leg deficits and had to settle for second best.