America continues to grab headlines
While this particular rivalry falls short of rancor created for a meeting between América and C.D. Guadalajara, it nonetheless generates plenty of debate and stands out as one of the more anticipated fixtures of the season. América's bright start to the Clausura only heightened the anticipation for a game against their mid-table opponents.
Cruz Azul opened the game brightly and supplied the foundation for a tense encounter. La Machina boss Guillermo Vázquez included Pablo Barrera in the starting XI for the first time since he recovered from an ACL tear suffered last year. His teammates – particularly the active Mariano Pavone – lifted Barrera in the early stages, but the match soon turned in América's favor at the behest of mercurial Christian Benítez.
Benítez's influential intervention in this affair served as a welcome distraction from the status quo. The Ecuadorian striker squanders too many chances and struggles for form too often for a player of his caliber, but he silenced most of his doubters for the moment after deciding this affair. His busy afternoon started when Osvaldo Martínez curled an inviting ball behind the static Cruz Azul back line and permitted him to thump home the opener with a diving header.
The subsequent dismissal of Israel Castro for a nasty, over-the-ball challenge on Rubens Sambueza encouraged América to grab the potential decisive second three minutes before the interval. Benítez collected the ball in the middle third, exposed Cruz Azul's dearth of defensive pressure and slotted home with his left foot to essentially put the match beyond reach before the break.
Another over-the-ball tackle from Paul Aguilar (a player in much better domestic than international form as of late) just after the hour restored numerical parity, but Benítez quelled any thoughts of a Cruz Azul revival by capping the 3-0 victory and completing his hat trick in style after 69 minutes. The entire sequence – a deft move to meet the incoming corner at the far post, a perfectly cushioned jump to create the proper contact and the neatly dispatched header back across the face of goal – showed why América once paid a reported $10 million to sign him from Santos Laguna and why Birmingham City once took him on loan to the Premier League.
External competitions and financial considerations matter little to América at this point with success finally within its grasp. Miguel Herrera's side reinforced its title credentials in this display at the Azteca and validated the persistent buzz surrounding its performances this season. If this sort of success continues, then América may not slip off those backpages for some time to come.
Around Liga MX – Jornada 9
Puebla continued the brief road trip prompted by CONCACAF U-20 Championship hosting duties with a 1-0 victory at floundering Club León. Diego de Buen scored eight minutes after halftime to give the mid-table side its first league win in three attempts. Many of the club's fans eschewed the away trip on Saturday and traveled to Estadio Cuauhtemoc instead to see Mexico defeat the United States 3-1 in extra time to complete that youth tournament on Sunday night.
Querétaro responded to last week's critical defeat to Atlas by securing a 1-0 home victory over Monterrey. Wilberto Cosme provided the difference between the sides to give Gallos Blancos some hope that they could reduce the yawning gap in the relegation battle. Atlas dashed those dreams by claiming a 1-0 victory over Club Tijuana in Guadalajara. Tomas Boy's side extended its unbeaten run to six games courtesy of a third-minute strike from Omar Bravo.
Atlas climbed within one point of top spot after Tigres settled for a 1-1 home draw with Morelia. Lucas Lobos set the leaders on a path to victory with his strike inside the opening half hour, but Carlos Ochoa lashed home Hector Mancilla's feed deep in second-half stoppage time to snatch a point at the death.
Pumas and C.D. Guadalajara settled for yet another stalemate in a series filled with them, but this 1-1 draw did not come without controversy. Martín Bravo and Miguel Sabah exchanged goals in the opening 41 minutes, but Bravo found himself erroneously denied a second goal on the stroke of halftime by the offside flag.
No such peculiarities influenced Pachuca's 2-1 home win over bottom side San Luis, Santos Laguna's 3-1 win at Jaguares (including two goals from Herculez Gómez) or Toluca's straightforward 1-0 away victory at Atlante (the home side mustered just one effort on goal).