No team improved more between the 2011 Apertura and the 2012 Clausura than Club America. After a dismal Apertura season with a meager three wins and a near-bottom of the league finish, manager Miguel Herrera stepped in last winter and guided the team to a remarkable turnaround. America increased their win total to nine and finished the Clausura season in third overall place (tied with second-place Monterrey on points, but with a slightly worse goal differential). Now with relatively few changes on the transfer market, America looks to go one step further this season towards that elusive eleventh trophy.
America’s offseason additions may have been few in number, but all three newcomers have the chance to make a significant impact. The highest profile signing was Efrain Juarez, who returns to Mexico from the Scottish Premier League’s Celtic. This season Juarez will be looking not only to make a splash with America, but also to play himself back into national team relevance. A highly versatile player, Juarez should have no problem earning a featured spot somewhere in the America rotation. Rather than a step backward, his reverse migration across the Atlantic to the Mexican league will likely end up doing wonders for his long-term career prospects. The regular game action, as well as the attention he will command at one of Mexico’s biggest clubs, certainly can’t hurt things at this point.
The other two new additions, Adrian Aldrete and Rubens Sambueza, also have the ability to earn starting spots with the Aguilas. Aldrete, who comes over from Morelia, will be a force to be reckoned with down the left side. Sambueza, a talented Argentinian attacking midfielder, comes over from Estudiantes Tecos looking to make an impact on a winning team.
America also gets the added bonus of not having to deal with any major personnel losses heading into the new season. The only summer departures were veteran defender Oscar Rojas and striker Vicente Matias Vuoso, who was mainly used as a substitute.
The key for the Aguilas in the Apertura will be to keep their high-powered offense rolling. Last season the America attack poured in 30 goals in the regular season, making them one of the top scoring teams in the league. The point of attack was striker Christian Benitez, whose 14 goals led the way. While "Chucho" commanded the bulk of the attention from opposing defenses, there’s still plenty of talent to go around in the attacking third. Players like Daniel Montenegro, Jose Cardenas, and Christian "Hobbit" Bermudez (who missed the bulk of the preseason with hepatitis), not to mention young forward Raul Jimenez who is currently on duty with the Olympic team. The central midfield is also in excellent hands with the emergence of Jesus Molina.
Overall, there aren't many holes in the roster as the team heads into the new season. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t concerns, though. Goalkeeper Moises Munoz was involved in a bad car accident in early June, and is not yet ready to return to the field. This week he said he’s recovered 70% mobility in his arm, so at this point it’s still unknown exactly when he will be fit to play again. That means Hugo Gonzalez, a 21-year-old goalkeeper that lacks big-time experience, will be thrown in front of the America net. There will be loads of pressure on the youngster to hold the goal down until Munoz’s return.
The preseason for this team was also less than stellar. It’s always dangerous to put too much stock into preseason results, but in their three-match July tour of the United States, America lost twice and never scored more than one goal (winning 1-0 over Pachuca, and losing 1-2 to Cruz Azul and 1-3 to Morelia).
There’s not much time for the team to catch its breath either, as the opening weekend of the Apertura season features a road match against Monterrey. It’s a monumental test against the same Rayados squad that knocked America out of the Liguilla semifinals last season. If the ultimate goal of a championship is a serious one, though, America must prove they can handle the league’s elite clubs. Week one would be a great place to start.
Efrain Juarez -- A highly versatile player, Juarez could service America almost anywhere on the backline or in the midfield. The challenge for Miguel Herrera will be to find where on the field Juarez is most needed, and where he can be the most effective.
Lingering Question Mark
Goalkeeping -- With Munoz out indefinitely, the goalkeeping responsibilities fall to the youngster Hugo Gonzalez. Gonzalez has a decent backline in front of him (anchored by Aquivaldo Mosquera), so while he doesn’t have to be world-class, he does need to avoid costly mistakes. Despite the many votes of confidence from his teammates, expect a lot of learning on the job over the first couple of weeks. We'll know a lot more about what Gonzalez is made of after the week one match against Monterrey at the Tecnologico.
Mark Your Calendar
Week 12 vs. Chivas -- This season’s edition of the Super Clasico will be held at Estadio Azteca during the first weekend of October. Last time out, America earned a 1-0 victory at Estadio Omnilife – the first win in the series for the Aguilas in several seasons. Can America make it two wins in a row in the national rivalry?
Top four -- America will earn one of the top four seeds and advance to the Liguilla semifinals for the second straight season. The much-desired trip to the championship, though, won’t come easy. To get by the likes of Santos, Monterrey, et al., America will need a resurgent Juarez and a postseason scoring explosion from Benitez.
This is the fifteenth in our series of Liga MX team previews ahead of the Apertura 2012 season. See our earlier previews of San Luis, Club Atlas, Queretaro, Club Leon, Puebla, Atlante, Jaguares Chiapas, Club Tijuana, Pachuca, Pumas UNAM, Chivas Guadalajara, Toluca, Cruz Azul, and Monarcas Morelia.