América's big money signing paid off in a big way in the opening round of the 2011 Apertura, as Christian 'Chucho' Benítez bagged a brace on Las Águilas' 2-1 home win over Querétaro. Toluca are coming off a fairly impressive triumph of its own, having traveled to Estudiantes Tecos, coming away with a 2-1 win thanks to an early pair of goals from recently signed Uruguayan veteran Ivan Alonso and young winger Nestor Calderón. Thanks to the two teams' solid reinforcements and positive opening round performances, not to mention their shared status as two of the most successful teams in Mexico, the clash on Sunday afternoon will present itself as one of the more intriguing match-ups of the weekend.
Indeed, the rivalry between the two teams has seen some fascinating games, including a 6-0 thrashing of América by Toluca in the 2003 Apertura that left the América goalkeeper in tears. América got its revenge six years later, beating Toluca 7-2 in another memorable match. The most recent encounter came at the Estadio Azteca in the 2011 Clausura, ending up as a thrilling 4-3 decision in favor of América, and with the last eight games between the two teams having had at least two goals, history suggests that not only fans of both sides, but neutrals as well, will have something to look forward to when the two rivals clash on Sunday.
Save for América's injured Ángel Reyna, both squads enter the match free from injury or suspension, allowing both coaches to call on a full complement of players. Toluca will likely field an unchanged lineup from their victory over Tecos in what shapes up to be a 4-2-3-1 formation, with Alonso being backed by a trio of creative attacking players. América looks set to welcome Paul Aguilar back to the defense in place of Eric Pimentel, but will otherwise field a similar squad to the one that defeated Querétaro.
Toluca may have a slight edge in this encounter, not only because it is the home side, but also because América traveled to New York for a lucrative midweek friendly with Italian giants Juventus, which it lost 1-0. The team also had to endure a weather delay during the game, and although América took full advantage of its substitutes' bench, Toluca will certainly look to exploit any tired legs left by América's game and long trip back and forth to New York.
With América's more offensive minded 4-4-2/4-2-4 setup, Toluca will look to take advantage of their extra man in midfield to keep América chasing possession and limit chances for the visiting side. On the other hand, América's talented attack will have to be sharp and take the chances that come along if the team is grab its first victory at the Estadio Nemesio Díez Riega.
Sunday's encounter has all the elements to make for enticing viewing, with two talented and historically successful teams looking to once again rise to the peak of Mexican soccer. While it is still early in the season, a victory in a fixture like this would go a long way towards setting a positive tone for the rest of the campaign.
While América is no doubt talented, it is hard to see the team picking up all three points in a venue it has not had much success at in recent years. However, the Águilas look good enough to pick up a draw, so I'll go for a 2-2 between these two sides. Though the 2011 Clausura final rematch betwee Morelia and Pumas might take the headlines on Sunday, this one will make for an equally entertaining encounter.
You can catch Toluca-América on U.S. (Spanish language) television at 1 p.m. EDT on Sunday July 31 on Telemundo.