MEXICO CITY — Every time Club America has gone behind in a game this season, “#FueraPiojo” has become a trending topic on social media in Mexico. It even happened during preseason games, when games were still ties and will undoubtedly occur once again should Las Aguilas lose on Saturday to Chivas in Liga MX’s Clasico Nacional.
Miguel “Piojo” Herrera understands the demands of managing Liga MX’s most successful club and hasn’t been surprised, even with his side in fourth place in the league on 20 points from 10 games this season. At Las Aguilas, it’s win and impress, or else. There’s no time for excuses and scamp sympathy when injuries hit — such as the bitter blow America has suffered to key defender Bruno Valdez — or when the team hits a slump and is forced to grind out results.
This 2020 Guard1anes season, Las Aguilas haven’t been bad enough to justify the removal of Herrera, but America has been middling, getting away with it in a few games, leaking 15 goals along the way. And that isn’t seen as good enough by some of the fanbase.
Whether that undercurrent of discontent will swell into a mass call for Herrera’s firing, or will quickly dissipate, at least for the time being, will depend on Saturday’s results against Chivas in Estadio Azteca, followed by Mexico City derbies against Cruz Azul and Pumas.
And Herrera knows very well just how big these games are, even if he isn’t delighted about the scheduling from Liga MX.
“They give us high tension games, three of them, against those [teams] that go all-in against us,” said Herrera in a recent interview with “Los Mas Grandes.”
“For Pumas it is their Clasico, they don’t have another; for Cruz Azul it is their Clasico, it doesn’t have another. Maximum tension, we are always under observation, always under the magnifying glass,” the ex-Mexico national team boss added.
For America captain and goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa, these big games are what the club thrives on and there is no sense of shirking responsibility.
“Fear doesn’t exist [here],” said Ochoa earlier this week in a video conference. “It’s the last thing you should have at America; here it’s about commitment, attitude, effort, we go after games; we’ve not even spoken about pressure of these three games [Chivas, Cruz Azul, Pumas], [they are] part of the deal that comes with wearing this shirt.”
Uruguayan striker Federico Vinas and Colombian Roger Martinez are in races to be fit for Herrera’s team on Saturday; there is a question over whether Giovani dos Santos may make a surprise appearance in the starting XI, as well as where to field the versatile Sebastian Cordova.
America goes into the game against arch-rival Chivas as the favorite, even if neither team is flying. The all-Mexican team from Guadalajara has been slowly grinding out results since Victor Manuel Vucetich took over from Luis Fernando Tena as head coach on Aug. 13, but it’s not been great to watch and even last weekend’s 2-1 victory over last-placed Necaxa, who played the majority of the game with 10 players, was a struggle.
Vucetich — who has the moniker “El Rey Midas” — has prioritized balance and defensive stability and 11 points from a possible 18 since he came in is a positive return, seeing the team rise to sixth position in the table.
But the post-Matias Almeyda era — with five consecutive seasons of not making the playoffs — has been difficult for Chivas to turn anything into gold and has been reflected in results in Mexico’s biggest rivalry: Chivas haven’t defeated America in an official game since February 2017, a run of six matches without victory.
“It’s a Clasico, a game in which I don’t consider there to be a favorite,” said Vucetich after last weekend’s win.
Chivas do have five players in Gerardo Martino’s Mexico squad next week in the preparation camp for the Sept. 30 friendly against Costa Rica, compared to America’s four. And that attacking front four of Uriel Antuna, Alexis Vega, Jose Juan Macias and Isaac Brizuela has enough talent to cause America problems, particularly if Chivas sit back as expected and try to pick off America on the break.
“The reality of Chivas is that we’re on the up, the objective is the playoffs and coach Vucetich is a winning manager and that makes us committed,” said a bullish Brizuela on Thursday.
Of particular intrigue will be the battle upfront between America’s on-form Henry Martin and Chivas’ reportedly Europe-bound striker Macias. Martin, 27, has consistently been scoring for Club America (five goals in 561 minutes this season), but it is 20-year-old Macias who has a higher profile and is viewed as the heir to Raul Jimenez and Javier Hernandez with El Tri.
One obvious missing factor is the fans in this coronavirus era and it’ll be the first Chivas vs. America clash behind closed doors. It’s a shame given one thing that sets the rivalry apart is that fans aren’t segregated, fomenting an atmosphere in which neither team has a large majority in the stands.
A win for Vucetich and Chivas would provide a significant boost early in his project, but America, and Herrera, won’t want social media to be alight with “#FueraPiojo” come Saturday night and for the pressure to increase heading into those Cruz Azul and Pumas games.
“We have to win on Saturday,” said Herrera in an interview with Cancha. “I demand that the fans keep pressing us, that they keep manifesting their annoyance if they don’t like the team because that’s going to make us ready to work.”