Ricardo La Volpe era at America starts on right foot with win over Pumas
MEXICO CITY -- Ricardo Antonio La Volpe is well aware that landing Club America's coaching job after Ignacio "Nacho" Ambriz's dismissal was like winning the lottery. Ten years since stepping down as Mexico national team manager, La Volpe's career has been one on the decline, with no silverware to show off, while students of his coaching style, such as Tijuana's current head coach Miguel "Piojo" Herrera, have been on the rise.
Two days after being officially presented as America's new coach, La Volpe made his debut in a Clasico Capitalino against Francisco Palencia's Pumas. It was a match where La Volpe, the survivor of many battles, faced Palencia, one of the new managerial faces in Liga MX. La Volpe stepped off the pitch, calm and pleased, as he saw Las Aguilas get a vital 2-1 win over a difficult Pumas' side, who created many scoring chances in the second half on Saturday night.
Last Thursday, wearing a black buttoned-down shirt and gold-colored tie, La Volpe's eyes gleamed with joy as he was presented by America's sporting president, Ricardo Pelaez, as the club's new head coach.
"The objectives don't change -- they're exactly the same ones," Pelaez said as he set the stage for La Volpe's coaching reign, which is initially planned to last the remainder of this season and the upcoming 2017 Clausura. "This is the most successful club in Mexico, and it always has big goals. Today, we're fifth place on the league table. In the cup we're going to play all of the remaining knockout games at home, including the final, and we're also looking forward on having our revenge at the upcoming Club World Cup in Japan."
La Volpe has arrived at a club that has grown used to celebrating a title at least every year. Not only that, the club is scheduled to turn 100 years old next October, and the crowd is desperate to see America celebrate a title by the end of the year. The last league championship for Las Aguilas happened in the 2014 Apertura, thanks to head coach Antonio "Turco" Mohamed.
America's 64-year-old Argentine coach is aware of the challenges that are ahead of him as he made it known during his Thursday presentation. "What I can say to the board of directors is that I'm going to give my all. I will convince my players that they represent an important institution, that they must give their all for this club, and I will lead them by example," he promised.
It was evident after the first 45 minutes against Pumas that America was headed toward La Volpe's planned destination. The team's organization was perceivable with every player understanding what zone to take care of, and when to move away from their instructed zone to help out a teammate in marking an opponent. "He has put a lot of attention on the aggressiveness we must use when it comes to marking, and he also orders us to play in zones so we can be compact in the defense," midfielder Osvaldo Martinez said when asked about what specific instructions La Volpe has given the entire team.
"This win comes at a good moment for the team because it came in a Clasico and in the Clasicos, you always have to win them. The team showcased a lot of attitude, a lot of order, and when the team executed its pressing, it succeeded. We scored two very early goals," team captain Rubens Sambueza added.
Those two early goals came in the second and fourth minutes of the match and significantly hurt Pumas' chances of getting a better result in its visit to Estadio Azteca. Palencia did confirm his frustration after the 2-1 loss, mainly because he thought his team had given a great showing. Pumas finished the match with 63 percent possession of the ball, and with 22 shots --more than double the number of shots America took.
However, Palencia concluded after the match: "In football there aren't just or unjust results. The ones who score the goals are the ones who will win. I leave calm because my team knows exactly how I want it to play. I've been saying the same exact thing after the last four matches."
With America, La Volpe still has a lot of work to do; it's normal because he's had very little time to inculcate his ideas into the team. After the match, he made several reflections, and said he felt his players seemed to be "tied down."
He added: "I think my team will be able to play more liberated. Why was it tied down? Because losses take a toll, so today the team didn't want to lose -- the team had already lost three games at Azteca. An important team that loses at its own field automatically makes its crowd go against it, which provokes the players to not play freely."
The second half was one where Las Aguilas relied heavily on the counter and allowed Pumas to have a legitimate shot to steal a point away at Azteca. La Volpe recognized that America's style in the second half was not one of his liking, but in games like Saturday's, the only thing that matters is getting the win.
"I thanked them a thousand times because they gave their all on the field. Sambueza went the full 90 minutes although he dealt more with recuperating balls than attacking." La Volpe, known in Mexico as "El Bigoton" for his moustache, said. "This fact means that we didn't have the ball and didn't control the game. We have to work on these aspects, but I have to remind you that tonight was a game that we had to win. It was one of those games that you had to win no matter what."
Nayib Moran covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @nayibmoran.