America pays respects to Benitez

BY Kyle McCarthy • August 4, 2013

The fans inside Estadio Azteca came together on Saturday to mourn the sudden loss of Club América icon Christian Benítez earlier this week.

A day out at the stadium usually offers relief from real life and all of its associated problems, but this particular occasion forced the supporters to stew in their miseries together. They joined in solidarity with their heartbroken comrades in Quito and pondered how their star striker fell so swiftly. They reflected on his life with a mixture of grief and reverence as they gathered to share their sorrows. They watched the players for América and Atlas link arms and shoulders around the center circle in tribute before the opening whistle.

And when the 11th minute arrived in América's 3-0 victory, they sang in appreciation of the departed Christian Benítez and wondered how they arrived this point so soon after he delivered the title they so desperately craved.

Most of them and much of the country spent the week trying to process Benítez's passing at the age of 27. The midweek fixtures proceeded as if on autopilot, but the full weight of the sadness poured down over the weekend as América returned home to send off its fallen former star.

The club – if not bombastic manager Miguel Herrera after some ill-advised comments about Benítez's decision to move to Qatar during the week – handled the matter as deftly as possible. It cut ticket prices to beckon fans to the Azteca soon after the news broke and sent its players out for the 1-1 draw at Club Leon on Wednesday with Chucho and number 11 on their backs. It welcomed those tormented supporters with open arms as they tried to grapple with the events of the past week.

Although the external events took center stage, the match carried its own significance. Only one result would suffice against an Atlas side stumbling in its first steps under Omar Asad. And Las Águilas delivered it with the opener providing a fitting reminder of what Benítez did so well.

Moisés Muñoz started the marauding counter with a quick throw out toward midfield. Luis Angel Mendoza collected the feed and raced down the left toward the Atlas penalty area. Mendoza created a yard of space and provided the service for the eerie finish to follow.

Narciso Mina found himself with the perfect chance to start the next phase of his career. The Ecuadorian international arrived in Mexico City prior to the Clausura as a potential replacement for Benítez. He now serves as a possible stopgap for both club and country, though his dismal production for América limits his influence on both counts.

Mina's past did not affect his present on this day. The compactly constructed forward – a Benítez clone in terms of his build, give or take an inch, a step or two of pace and a few pounds – contorted his body much like his former national team colleague and directed his header into the net. He lashed the ball back into it in celebration and then streaked toward the crowd to gesture his appreciation to Benítez.

Fellow Ecuadorians Walter Ayoví and Jefferson Montero (fussily booked for his tear-ridden, t-shirt baring outpouring of emotion in midweek) followed suit when they pounced, but Mina's goal served as the most fitting tribute. No one man can replace Benítez and what he meant to his former club and his country. But every so often, a moment – in this instance, a goal emblematic and worthy of the man himself – can provide a reminder of why so many will desperately miss Benítez after his passing earlier this week.

Around Liga MX – Jornada 4

Cruz Azul manager Guillermo Vázquez showed his disgust for the events in the 3-2 defeat at Veracruz by sending Israel Castro out to perform his postmatch press conference duties. Castro provided the flash point in the affair when referee Miguel Ángel Flores dismissed him for handling with La Maquina one goal to the good. Castro, as one might expect, noted he stopped the ball with his chest after the match, but his valid protestations did not prevent his subsequent dismissal. Ángel Reyna converted the first of three penalties awarded on the day to inspire the league leaders' second-half revival.

Veracruz – yes, the same side granted entry to the top flight through a purchased license during the close season – sits one point clear after four rounds. Morelia (2-1 victors over Club Tijuana) and Club Leon (1-1 draw at Pachuca) comprise the closest members of the chasing pack during the early stages of the season.

C.D. Guadalajara manager Benjamin Galindo dropped Marco Fabián, Miguel Ponce, Miguel Reynoso and Miguel Sabah to send his charges a message ahead of the straightforward home affair against Atlante on Sunday night. They just about heeded it, though the narrow 1-0 victory offered relatively little comfort about the state of affairs around Estadio Omnilife. Rafael Márquez Lugo claimed all three points with his strike just before the hour and Luis Michel repelled the somewhat unfortunate visitors to hand Chivas its first victory of the Clausura.

RESULTS: Club América 3 – Atlas 0, Veracruz 3 – Cruz Azul 2, Monterrey 1 – Toluca 1, Morelia 2 – Club Tijuana 1, Santos Laguna 2 – Querétaro 0, Pachuca 1 – Club Leon 1, Chiapas 4 – Puebla 2 (Saturday); Pumas UNAM 0 – Tigres UANL 2, Guadalajara 1 – Atlante 0 (Sunday).

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