After years of failing to live up to the big expectations that come along with carrying the name and badge of Club America, the team got back into Liguilla last season and looked like a championship contender. They weren't able to take home a title, but their run along with their exciting style of play under Carlos Reinoso has fans optimistic again. They might still be a tiny bit behind their rivals Tigres UANL and Monterrey in depth, but they've made big moves in the offseason and you'll be hard pressed to find a starting XI that matches their talent.
The folks at Televisa busted out their checkbooks this offseason, spending a massive $10 million on striker Cristian 'Chucho' Benitez, one of the best strikers plying his trade outside of Europe. They've picked up a couple of fringe Mexican international players as well, adding right back Paul Aguilar and holding midfielder Jesus Molina to the side. They should be excellent additions to an America defense that did not nearly match the talent and production of their offense last season.
The club has also seen two very notable departures, with a couple of Mexican national team stars departing under different circumstances. Guillermo 'Memo' Ochoa has been sold to French Ligue 1 side Ajaccio as he tries to establish a career in Europe, while Pavel Pardo has been released from his contract and is expected to sign with the Chicago Fire in MLS sometime between Friday and Monday. Armando Navarrete will step in for Ochoa, while Molina was almost certainly purchased from Pumas with Pardo's departure in mind.
America have let defender Diego Cervantes walk - addition by subtraction, according to some fans - and Aguilar's acquisition will relegate Miguel Layun to a backup role. That latter point is a serious upgrade, as Layun was quite possibly the worst defender who got regular minutes for a Liguilla contender last season. Those are harsh words, but his red cards in consecutive games late last year, causing him to be suspended for a Liguilla match and a Copa Libertadores knockout stage match, were truly astonishing.
Alvaro Mosquera and Juan Carlos Valenzuela will likely start in the center of defense, with Aguilar at right back and vice-captain Oscar Rojas at left back. This defense sounds worlds better than the one who played for most of the games last season. American Edgar Castillo has returned to the team and could get a shot at playing time as well, while there are a few up and coming youngsters who were either out on loan or with the reserves previously who could boost the America defense.
The first choice players in the center of midfield will probably be Molina and Rosinei, and they should make up a formidable pair. However, the depth behind them is not very good, and that makes the release of Pardo look questionable. If there aren't players from the youth and reserve teams ready to step up, America could be in serious trouble in the center of the park in case of injuries.
Out wide and up top is where most of the talent that America has lies, which makes spending $10 million on Benitez seem a little curious. Some are of the opinion that Chucho and Vicente Vuoso won't make a great pair up top, while team captain Vicente Sanchez is now in no man's land. The most plausible first team seems to include Vuoso and Benitez up top with Angel Reyna on the left and Sanchez on the right, but who knows how long that will last. Daniel Montenegro and Juan Carlos Medina could potentially fight those players for places.
Our own Nicholas Rosano was at the friendly match between Club America and Manchester City earlier this month, and he was able to obtain some quotes from America manager Carlos Reinoso, translated to English.
Reinoso on if América is far from where it wants to be for the season:
"We are not far, we have played three good games [in preseason]. America has to be a very serious team as we want to be in the Mexican league, especially when matches like this come to us. I think we are on a good path and I think we're ready to win. I think we're close to what we want to show [in the league]."
Reinoso on what América has to do to finish in the top places:
"Play and work as in the past. América is an attacking team, América owes it to the numerous supporters it has that like attacking football and like seeing their team play good football. I think we are going to fly with this team because we have excellent players."
I happen to agree with Mr. Reinoso. They're looking sharp in preseason, and their talent suggests that they're a serious contender for a title this season.
Rosinei - With Pardo gone, the 28-year-old Brazilian will be the engine that makes America go in the center of midfield.
Paul Aguilar - Yes, over Chucho Benitez. America's problem last year was not scoring goals, it was preventing goals. Aguilar is a major upgrade at the back.
Liguilla, and title contenders - I'm not sure I'd call them favorites over Monterrey, Tigres, Pumas, or Cruz Azul if they manage to get through their suspensions, but they are definitely contenders for a title.
This is the thirteenth in our series of Mexican Primera team previews. Check out the earlier previews of Club Tijuana Xolos, Queretaro FC, Jaguares de Chiapas, Estudiantes Tecos, Club Atlas, Puebla FC, Atlante FC,San Luis, UANL Tigres, Chivas Guadalajara, Pachuca, and Santos Laguna.