Club América grapple with expectations as decisive CCL final second leg beckons

Club América forward Oribe Peralta goes through his paces on the field at Olympic Stadium on Tuesday. Peralta is expected to play a prominent role for América 

DAVID LEAH/MEXSPORT

MONTREAL

The seeds for the second leg of this final were sown at the conclusion of the opening match at Estadio Azteca. Club América did not expect to spend the aftermath of that affair trying to explain away a 1-1 draw with Montréal Impact. The players allowed their frustrations with the predicament and their candid thoughts about the opposition to seep through in its wake. 

In the end, the barbs came as little surprise from a side conditioned to expect more than a draw on home soil. América — as suspended Impact goalkeeper Evan Bush rather succinctly noted when he addressed the media on Tuesday — is the biggest club in CONCACAF. It is the club with the most Liga MX titles. It is in position to join Cruz Azul as the most successful club in the Champions Cup and Champions League with a victory over the Impact on Wednesday (live, 8:00p.m. ET, FOX Sports 2, FOX Sports Go). 

Those achievements and the culture of winning surrounding them render the peculiarities of this assignment irrelevant. América cannot blame the assignment of a Costa Rican referee for the second leg, cite the arduous travel itinerary, highlight the peculiarity of playing indoors on turf or use the tight turnaround from the 1-1 draw with Chivas Guadalajara on Sunday to explain away a failure in Quebec. There is no latitude for error here. There is only the expectation of victory against a side with just three MLS seasons in tow. 

“History doesn’t count,” América manager Gustavo Matosas said through a translator on Tuesday evening. “We’re here to play a good team and we have to play a good game if we want to win. History will not play into it in any way.”

It does, however, play into the expectations. They are lofty even with the tournament still struggling to find a foothold in Mexico. América finds itself in a rather difficult spot with everything to lose and rather little to gain. 

Las Aguilas entered this tournament as the favorites to win it. It is no surprise to see them in the final, even if they labored unnecessarily against Herediano in the semifinal to reach it. If they do in fact win it, then they are only meeting the requisite standards on their way to Japan later this year. If they do not, however, then they — and Matosas, in particular — will fall under withering scrutiny for ending Mexican dominance in a tournament and falling short against a side with an inferior squad and a smaller budget.

Matosas responded to the rather difficult dilemma by planning accordingly over the course of the past week. He named a strong side in Mexico City for the first leg, but those plans went awry when his players failed to produce the necessary end product in the face of the Impact’s dogged resistance. He played his starters against Chivas, but he entrenched them deeply after Paul Aguilar’s stunning opener to grind out a draw and left Oribe Peralta on the bench for the duration of the affair to preserve his recovering body for this affair.

América boss Gustavo Matosas faces a difficult decision regarding the fitness of influential schemer Rubens Sambueza (hamstring).

Peralta’s presumed return for this game reflects the investment necessary to extract the desired result. Matosas must check on the fitness of the influential Rubens Sambueza after the midfielder schemer departed at halftime with a hamstring injury on Sunday, too. The return of Ventura Alvarado strengthens the options in defense in a match where América must carefully guard against the Impact counter after conceding on the break in Mexico City a week ago. 

There is no room for complacency or overconfidence now. If América produces its best, then it boasts more than enough to claim the desired victory. Those days have proven few and far between since Matosas took charge prior to the start of the Clausura, though. It is down to this group of players to ensure this occasion transforms into the comprehensive performance required to match the occasion.

“We have to be focused for every minute,” Alvarado said. “We have to look for the game totally. We have to go for it.”

There is little doubt on that front. América needs to score at least once, but it requires more than just a meek victory. There are expectations to fulfill and there is pride to save. This group knows it is capable after mustering a swashbuckling display to dispatch Herediano. It is now in their hands to see whether they can satisfy the burdens placed upon them and sweep to victory once more.