Chivas heroic in CONCACAF Champions League, America stumble
Editor's Note: This piece originally appeared on ESPN Deportes and was translated for ESPN FC.
LOS ANGELES -- Chivas wanted it, knew how to get it and got it. America wanted it but didn't know how and, in the end, couldn't get it at all.
The ultimate battle in the CONCACAF Champions League will be fought between Mexico and Canada. The United States will have to settle for watching the World Cup on TV and didn't even advance to the final. In the end, it will be an affair between Guadalajara and Toronto, a side with a roster made of only Mexican players against one featuring players from eight countries.
Chivas had to go through an ordeal to get there over two legs against the New York Red Bulls. Their goalkeeper, Rodolfo Cota, was the hero, taking advantage of all the lucky charms working in his favor. They played with just 10 players because the guy with the Bruce Willis resemblance and aggressive haircut (aka Alan Pulido) was the best at recovering the ball for the Red Bulls, while Chivas was able to defend its trenches and resist the consistent assault from the New Yorkers, who fought like mad on the pitch out of pure instinct, though it wasn't enough.
The Major League Soccer guys in red and white ended up with a collective migraine: Their poor noggins headed the ball 27 times near the goal as Cota was the Chivas player preventing a full shipwreck.
The Red Bulls tried with the uninspired and repetitive plan of trying to score without a single kick in the penalty area. Jesus Bracamontes coined a phrase that could serve as the epitaph for the Red Bulls: "They try to hit so hard that they forget to just play soccer." I couldn't have said it better myself. During that exercise of extreme resistance, Chivas put up a wall and held it firmly in place, resisting nine shots on goal while two MLS strikers showed up late to deliver the goal-scoring touch by a tenth of a second.
It is true that Chivas must improve quite a lot to competently battle against Toronto over the next two weeks. If they try once again to dig deep in the two-legged finals against a more powerful adversary and current MLS Cup champions, it would be fatal.
As of now, Chivas will be without two of their starters for the first-leg faceoff April 17 in Toronto: Jair Pereira, who won't be missed at all, and the heroic Cota, who will certainly be.
How about America? Gosh, they wanted to reach the final. They always did. Despite the fact that Alex Bono had a lucky night, the Liga MX side played anxiously and nervously, their approach full of desperation. On top of that, they were dealing with lack of attention when it comes to defending, and Jonathan Osorio ended up deflating all illusion at the Azteca. A second leg with a 1-0 score ended up becoming a scandalous 4-1 aggregate win to put Toronto at ease after they suffered the loss of Jozy Altidore to an injury after just seven minutes.
With Michael Bradley as a genuine leader and playing as an extra center-back on occasion, the Canadian side was able to withstand against an Aguilas team that kept attacking in messy waves. However, Oribe Peralta, Andres Ibarguen, Mateus Uribe, Renato Ibarra and Paul Aguilar (among others) ended up showing their respects to Bono, while Henry Martin confirmed that he had a Cinderella night against a Lobos BUAP playing with 10 men, only to return to his regular "pumpkin" state against Wednesday's MLS opponent.
A gift from the referees makes the fact that America was eliminated only more pathetic than it already is, as Uribe converted a pointless penalty in injury time. Final score: 1-1 at the Azteca Stadium. Useless.
Is this a huge and astonishing America failure or a huuuuuuuuuuuuuuuge America fail, as analyst Manuel Lapuente so eloquently said? No doubt. Now, America coach Miguel Herrera knows it too well: Winning the Liga MX championship is an absolute must.
As for Chivas -- specifically their sporting director, Paco Gabriel De Anda -- they must put Jorge Vergara's checkbook to good use in order to pay off a debt to players that has ballooned to millions. It's a credit to Chivas' players that they've still reached the continental final and proven that they are not fazed by it.
Rafa Ramos is a ESPNDeportes.com staff writer and hosts ESPN Deportes Radio's Raza Deportiva. Follow him on Twitter @rafaramosESPN