Semifinals and Changes at Pumas

Club America hosts Monterrey in the first leg of a highly anticipated Semi-Final tie tonight at the Estadio Azteca (Telefutura, 9pm CT). There is not a lot of love lost between citizens of Monterrey and those in the Capital city. Regios flat out don't like Chilangos. We chilangos... well, we're indifferent because we see the rest of the country as the sticks, so why would Monterrey be any different?

I kid.

Regardless of geographical ties, both teams come into the match-up enjoying some form of a resurgence. Monterrey slipped up a bit after dominating the league over the past few years last season. Injuries and poor form kept them out of the liguilla and afforded them a one and done at the Club World Cup. Once healthy, Rayados reminded us what a great team they are. Not only did they end the season strongly winning 6 0f 8, they also repeated as champions in the CCL, casting aside 3 other Mexican sides in the knockouts.

Club America fans had to suffer through a painful series of self-inflicted setbacks that stemmed from decisions made by their former president, Michel Bauer. More often than not, players and coaches that were brought in failed to mesh. To be fair, it was an impossible task trying to replace Salvador Cabañas, and Bauer finally managed to do so by bringing in Christian Benitez the season before he mercifully resigned. A fresh set of suits brought in Miguel Herrera, Herrera brought in a few of his confidants and led the Aguilas to a tie with Monterrey in the standings.

When these two met earlier in the year, it Monterrey who took the win, thanks to a late, late goal from a former Americanista, Angel Reyna. Who moves on? Let's break it down.

Goalkeeping - Club America massively upgraded their goalkeeping with the addition of Moises Múñoz in January. Jonathan Orozco has been Rayados' net-minder for a while and has consolidated himself as one of Mexico's best. Edge - Monterrey

Defense - This is the area Herrera had to improve, and did so tremendously. Even though Venezuelan international Oswaldo Vizcarrondo has been a disappointment, at least the threat of playing time has motivated the starters to play much better. Monterrey has been using the same back four for a number of years, and their coach, Victor Manuel Vucetich is not affraid to lean on them to protect a lead. Edge - Monterrey. They have much more big game experience. Club America also has a much more dangerous offense to try and shut down.

Midfield - Both sides have cagy, veteran players who can dictate, pounce on mistakes, and take control. Monterrey gets the edge here because of superior depth and how Vucetich can change the game depending on the sub he chooses to insert.

Forwards - Both sides have a go to guy in Chucho Benítez and Humberto Suazo, but once again it is Monterrey's strength in numbers that gives them edge.

Coaching - Vucetich clearly has the squad advantage which more options as far as moving his chess pieces, but Herrera is the poster child for conjuring up the "it's us vs. the world" meme. If Club America buy into it, then they have a good chance to take the tie.

See you in the finals - Monterrey, but it won't be easy. They are saved by the tie goes to the higher seed rule.

***

As a Pumas fan, it was a little disheartening to hear the new that their coach, Guillermo Vázquez, and the suits decided that it would be best for the coach to step down. This time, last year, Pumas was in the midst of their 7th championship run under their then rookie coach. Vasquez was a Pumas man down to the marrow: he came up through the youth ranks, won titles as a player, assistant and coach. So I would have to imagine that it was one of the toughest days of his professional career.

So why the split?

After Pumas won the title in a terrfic 3-2 tie over Morelia, Paco Palencia, who had gone from suspicious outsider to beloved team captain (in the eyes of the Pumas faithful), retired. Moreover, the front office further decimated the midfield by exposing the two starting DMs and one of their immediate substitutes in the "draft." Israel Castro, Leandro Agusto and Jehu Chiapas were all snatched up, but not replaced. In fact, it has been years since Pumas signed picked up any new reinforcements, deciding instead to rely on their youth system to pick up the slack.

The plan might have worked, if other players had not decided to have their worst seasons as professionals. The usually reliable Martín Bravo suddenly found the goal mouth to be a size of a thimble. Javier Cortés, who was poised for a major breakthrough, couldn't break through a paper bag. The youth products who were targeted to pick up the slack, Carlos Orrantia, Diego de Buen, and David Izazola among others had negligible impacts. Pumas missed both liguillas.

It was no surprise, then, the Vázquez wanted to bring in some help. A lot of help. The front office, though, decided that two hired guns would be enough. His opinion differed. And that was that.

What message does that send to the fans?

We have a coach who wants to win and make the necessary moves to his team in position to do so, and a front office who understands that changes need to be made, as long as they fall under budget. Of all people, Vazquez should understand the team's overall mission. This is not Pachuca or Toluca who are going to bring in a dozen new players every year. The front office should understand that sometimes bringing in players is a necessity sometimes. And you may have to open up the wallet a little more.

This is one of those times.