I am not a big fan of Interliga, or at least I haven't been. In my eyes, the prize has always outweighed the quality of the tournament. Not every team that has participated has taken it seriously. Sloppy play, half-filled stadiums and overall indifference has been the overlying theme of the tournament. More often than not, a less than stellar team headed off to play in the most important club tournament in the Americas.
But Interliga 2009 was different. 2 of the participants were super heavyweights still smarting from their lackluster Apertura 08 tournaments. America and Guadalajara came to show at full strength, eager to temper the disappointment of the previous season. The fans in Houston were treated to a Superclasico, which ended in a draw. Both teams then lit up their foes in their next game; they were both in great position to punch a Libertadores ticket. So the big boys brought their big guns, and anything less than a pass to the Libertadores would be considered a huge disappointment.
Unfortunately for the Americanismo, they were run out of the Home Depot Center by Atlas. A 4-1 win eliminated the Cremas, and manifested an alarming trend that has been festering for the past few years for Mexico's most powerful team. America just has not been the same since they gave up that 2 goal lead vs. Arsenal in the Sudamericana final. The coaching turnstile has been spinning at a dizzying rate, the team has not played well at all in the local tournament, and the big money signings have just not panned out, either by injury, or otherwise. The team just has not gelled. And now they have brought in a legion of reinforcements for the upcoming local tournament. America is the kind of team that feels that it is not enough to bring in players. They have to bring in brands. Name recognition carries a lot of weight for America. But as we have seen with other teams across the world in a variety of sports: sometimes the superstars don't make the best teams. Will it work for America? They have 17 games to find out. They'll pull through, but not before another coach is sacrificed.
For Chivas, the tournament allowed them to see if their new signing, Carlos Ochoa, was worth it. He did bag 3 goals and was impressive, but he was not the story. Alberto Medins looks to be fully fit after a litany of pesky injuries hampered him all throughout 2008. Medina made the most of his minutes, and he looks to be gathering enough momentum to warrant a call up. Medina's resurgence, along with Jonny Magallon and Michel returning from injury and Aaron Galindo's return from the Bundesliga make Chivas a favorite in the local tournament and the Libertadores.
The other team that has earned in the spot in the Libertadores (via playoff) is Pachuca. They appeared to have regained their offensive touch, scoring 8 goals in 4 games. But it was their mica thin defense that nearly did them in. After getting a 3 goal lead vs. Atlas, it had evaporated by the 87th minute. Pachuca and Atlas had to go around the batting order once more in the PK shootout. I hadn't seen that since the '92 Africa Cup of Nations final. They outlasted Atlas 10-9. Who says penalties aren't fun.
So the Interliga 2009 came to a close with 2 teams adding some tournament games, others feeling good about themselves despite not making it to the Libertadores, and others heckled by their own fans as they returned home. We ask for little in this crazy world, and good soccer in nearly at the top of the list. The Interliga delivered. The stadiums were packed. Most of the games were exciting. Mexico will be well represented in the Libertadores by Chivas, San Luis, and Pachuca (if they win their play-in). It was a good way to kick off the New Year.