Chivas Guadalajara, Leon ready to attack in Copa MX final
Chivas will attempt to claim their first major trophy since winning the Liga MX's Apertura 2006 when they take on Leon in the Copa MX Apertura final on Wednesday evening.
Coach Matias Almeyda rested key players like Omar Bravo and Oswaldo Alanis last weekend in preparation for the cup final in Estadio Nou Camp, revealing just how much a trophy of any kind would mean to an institution dogged by relegation issues of late.
Here are five things to watch out for:
1. Expect an open match
Chivas drew 4-4 against Pachuca on Sunday in a game that was simply crazy. Either team could have won, and fans went home having watched a classic.
But any defensive coach looking on would have been appalled by the space both conceded to the opposition between the lines, as well as the errors committed.
Almeyda's Chivas have so far attacked and excited much more than that of former coach Jose Manuel "Chepo" de la Torre, and when the Argentine replaced Marco Fabian with Eduardo "Chofis" Lopez in the 57th minute last Sunday, it seemed to sum up his intent. Even at 3-1 up, he went further on the offense.
In the end, it didn't work out and Pachuca netted three goals in ten minutes.
Chivas' opponents on Wednesday aren't exactly the best defensively, either. Juan Antonio Pizzi's side may sit in third place on the league table, but it has the worst defensive record having conceded 28 goals in 15 matches -- almost two a game. Pizzi's side likes to have the ball and is uncomfortable when forced to defend.
The bottom line is that it would be a huge shock if there weren't bucket loads of goals.
2. Crowning moment for Bravo?
The wrangling over Chivas captain and figurehead Bravo's possible new contract rumbles on, with his current contract running out at the end of this Apertura. Team owner Jorge Vergara said a deal is near, contradicting what Bravo has himself said about everything still being up in the air.
So the 36-year-old's future is unclear, and Bravo's previous statements have indicated that a return to MLS would tempt him and his family.
That means Wednesday's Copa MX final could be Bravo's last truly big game for Chivas and his last chance to win a major trophy for the club. The captain -- who is also the club's highest-ever goal-scorer -- has been an inspiration this season and must be a strong contender for Liga MX player of the season.
Few would begrudge Bravo if Chivas are to defeat Leon and he lifts the cup.
3. Will Almeyda/Pizzi select starters?
Reports from the Leon camp suggest Pizzi will pick his strongest possible side, apart from goalkeeper William Yarbrough retaining his Copa MX position in place of regular Liga MX starting goalkeeper Christian Martinez.
But Chivas may well play a mixed side of regular starters and fringe figures. It will likely be Rodolfo Cota in goal, Miguel Ponce at left-back, Raul Lopez right-back and Miguel Basulto alongside Oswaldo Alanis in central defense.
In midfield, Michael Perez could continue alongside Marco Fabian, with "Chofis" Lopez further forward. Up front, Bravo is set to start, possibly with Carlos Fierro on one wing and Carlos Cisneros on the other.
Leaving the likes of Carlos Salcedo, Carlos Salcido, Israel Castro and Isaac Brizuela out would respect the work the fringe players have done to reach the final, but Leon will be happy if Chivas aren't at full strength.
4. Yarbrough needs a big game
When Yarbrough was called up to the U.S. national team last March, he was the established starter at Club Leon. The 26-year-old had won two Liga MX titles and was on course to stake a claim at international level. But shortly after his debut, he lost his starting place to Martinez and hasn't played a minute in the league since April.
The keeper knows that he needs to be playing for Leon in the Liga MX in order to get back into the USMNT mix and the easiest route to that is by playing consistently in the Copa MX.
Yarbrough has previously produced memorable performances in big games. Now with the pressure on for both his club and international career, he needs to pull another out the bag.
5. Copa Libertadores half-ticket on the line
The winner of Wednesday's match will play the winner of the Clausura Copa MX 2016 for a place in the Copa Libertadores 2017.
That may seem like a long way off, and it is, but for a big club like Chivas, it is an important step, especially considering the problems the institution has gone through of late.
Owner Vergara has previously lauded the importance of the Libertadores to the club and lifting the cup would also give the whole institution a boost of much-needed confidence.
Tom Marshall covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MexicoWorldCup.