On Sunday evening Chivas Guadalajara and Club America will take the field at the new Estadio Omnilife for the latest edition of what is supposedly Mexico’s greatest rivalry. The media hype machine is already in full force, running wall-to-wall coverage of these two storied franchises as they gear up for another showdown. If Chuck D was a soccer fan he'd tell you straight: Don't believe it. Unfortunate as it is, when it comes to the rivalry known as the Super Clasico in 2011, almost all of the hype is artificially manufactured.
Yes these two teams have the biggest fan bases in the country, and yes each club has won loads of trophies. But if we are totally honest, recent meetings between Chivas and America have been downright disasters on the field.
A game that should play out like a top-quality Broadway production of Mexican football has instead devolved into a county fair sideshow. It has been five seasons since we've had more than one goal scored in the Clasico, and the last four games between these teams have netted three total goals combined. Not exactly riveting viewing for the casual fan.
The downward trajectory of the rivalry may have reached its low point with last season’s listless scoreless draw. That game, played in Estadio Azteca back in October, saw both teams committed to playing complete defensive-minded football. The result? An absolute snoozer of a game that was probably less entertaining than the 0-0 score indicated (if that's even possible).
To hardcore fans of each club this game will always matter, but it is time to stop portraying this rivalry as the very essence of Mexican football. It’s not. The reputation of this rivalry may ring out worldwide, but unless the product improves, the casual fan who tunes in may end up turning a deaf ear to the entire league.
If you are a soccer fan that primarily follows league play in another country, and only watch a few games each season in the Mexican Primera, there are better matches to tune into. It's great to have new fans checking out the Mexican league, but I would much rather see them take in a Pumas-Cruz Azul, Monterrey-Tigres, or even a Cruz Azul-America match. These other games are guaranteed to be engrossing and entertaining to the casual and neutral fan. Right now it’s hard to say the same about the Super Clasico.
It doesn't have to be this way, though. The easiest road to recovery is the return of the days when both teams competed for titles. Like all good rivalries, Chivas-America has the history and the passionate fans; the missing ingredient is just a pair of teams that stay relevant in the title chase.
To make an American sport parallel, Chivas have become the Notre Dame of Mexico in recent seasons: a team with a long history, and once proud tradition, that is struggling to stay relevant in the current league landscape. I don't want to go as far as to call Jose Luis Real a skinny Mexican version of Charlie Weis, but things do need to be turned around before it’s too late.
The best rivalries in American sports, such as Yankees-Red Sox, Lakers-Celtics, Duke-Carolina, etc., all consist of teams that regularly compete for championships. When the rivalries take place, the stakes are high and there are almost always title ramifications. Neutral fans watch because the games actually matter.
It has now been eight full seasons since either Chivas or America won a title. America's trip to the Liguilla semifinals last season was actually the first time either team had advanced past the first round in six seasons.
Things do finally appear to be looking up a bit this year. New America manager Carlos Reinoso has his team playing a much more attacking style (currently America are the highest scoring team in the league). Chivas have also shown renewed signs of life in recent weeks, going undefeated since the month of February. If nothing else, we should at least avoid another scoreless draw this season.
Most importantly, both teams are also currently in position to qualify for the postseason. Earning points in the standings couldn’t be more important for either team right now. A win on Sunday would propel either Chivas or America that much closer to securing a Liguilla berth.
In reality, no matter how many scoreless draws these teams play, or how long the collective championship drought lasts, the Super Clasico will always loom large over the league. Because of its history, the cities represented, the two huge fans bases, and the never-ending media hype machine, for better or worse this match will always be at the forefront of the national sports consciousness. For that reason, I hope these two clubs can make this game really mean something again. For the league's sake, the fans' sake, and for my sake, I hope Sunday’s edition is a step in a new direction. Chivas and America, please show me how much the Clasico still matters. I’ll never be happier to have been proven wrong.