Don't look now, but a certain team heads into this weekend's Liga MX ties in a very customary position, even though it's been a while since they have been there. And their fans are beginning to swarm like locusts because their team is back where they know they belong. On top.
In the five years since I have been writing in this space, any Club America stories were never rarely about how well they had been playing. Most of my Aguila-centric pieces had to do with how horribly mismanaged they had become, how low they had fallen, what an embarrassment they were to their legion of fans, etc, etc. It was a great time to be a hater.
All that changed when Miguel Herrera took over the team.
It's not as if he turned the team around overnight. More importantly, he was given time to turn the team around, a luxury that was never afforded to his immediate predecessors. It also helps that Herrera is more than a decent coach whose personality copes well under the white hot spotlight that always bears down on a Club America coach. In this case, it is his biggest asset. Whether it is weekly press conferences, post game tirades, or the occasional phone interview, Herrera happily laps up all the attention. And in so doing, he takes a ton of pressure off his players. For a club that has historically been defined by their transcendent players, right now it is Herrera who is carrying the highest Q rating.
The players have responded in kind. Nowhere was it more evident than last week in Tijuana, where a 9-man Aguila team became the first squad to hand Xolos a home loss since last May. Down 2 men, Herrera had to shore up his defense by taking out a forward. But he didn't take out the current wonderboy, Raúl Jiménez, he took out super expensive, experienced, savvy, Chucho Benítez.
And the Ecuadorian forward didn't register a complaint.
If he did, it would have had to have gone in the direction of the two players who were sent off, Rubens Sambueza and Aquivaldo Mosquera, the latter having gotten a yellow for dissent, and the former for not realizing yet that he is a marked my by the refs; any indiscretion is subject to a yellow card or worse.
In the off-season, Sambueza's signing was ridiculed by the haters. How could a Tecos reject be any help to America, they wondered. But the Argentine was one of Herrera's favorites: a glue guy that has enough versatility to not only do the necessary dirty work, but can also find the back of the net. It may have been the best value buy of the year in Liga MX. He is a marked man, though, because as a Teco he punched a ref. They seem to have a long memory when it comes to that sort of thing.
Up next for America is a home date with Toluca, who after getting trounced at home, 4-1, by Tigres, their coach, Enrique Meza, announced that his team was in full crisis mode. Good move. Toluca went down to Buenos Aires and got a huge win over Boca Juniors in a mid-week Libertadores tie.
From a league stand point, the timing could not be better for America's return to prominence. The newly re-branded league needed one of its flagships to find fresh wind. A Club America at full sail means better ratings - people will tune in to watch their beloved team win, and nearly just as many will watch to see them lose.
But they keep winning, and I know that because the local Americanistas won't let me forget.
And more and more come out after each win.