The two teams that make up the backbone of the new Mexican national team starting XI were not hindered by their stars' involvement in El Tri's intercontinental playoff and have vindicated Miguel Herrera's selections with brilliant runs through the Liguilla. Club America and Club Leon face off in the first leg of the 2013 Apertura final on Thursday, with teh second leg to be played on Sunday night.
America will be shooting for their second consecutive Liga MX championship, while Leon -- who are playing in just their third tournament since getting promoted back to the top flight -- are after their first title since 1992.
This final is not just a battle between two teams, but also one between Liga MX's biggest ownership groups. With multiple-club ownership going by the wayside shortly (though anything can change at any time in Mexican soccer), America owner Televisa and Leon owner Groupo Pachuca -- backed by telecommunications mogul Carlos Slim, once the richest man in the world -- will soon have to pick which teams they wish to get behind long term. They've also been fighting over TV deals, with Slim breaking what was a duopoly between Televisa and Grupo Salinas, selling the rights to Leon games to FOX.
Leon had the more comfortable path to the final, though the draw helped them in that respect. They played the first leg of their semifinal tie at home against Santos Laguna, and their 3-1 win helped them to advance with just a draw in the second leg. America lost 2-1 to Toluca in the first leg of their semifinal, but turned in a convincing 2-0 home win at Estadio Azteca to advance.
The presence of three central defenders at the back should be a good matchup for Leon's usual two-striker formation, but Los Aguilas conceded a headed goal to striker Mauro Boselli in their regular season meeting, a 1-1 draw. America had a chance to win that match in stoppage time, but Osvaldo Martinez missed a decisive penalty.
Leon's biggest weapons are their attacking midfield players, who have caused problems all season for opponents with their late runs into the penalty area. Whether he's playing in the center or on the wing, Carlos Peña is always a danger to score, while Luis Montes has been brilliant running the show in the middle for Leon and chips in with the occasional goal as well. The star man to watch for America is striker Raul Jimenez, who has played his way into a regular national team place with his impressive displays over the last two tournaments.
Match date/time: Thursday, 9 p.m. ET
Venue: Estadio Leon, Leon, Mexico