Mexico’s Club América is five games into its Liga MX season, yet it has flown nearly 10,000 miles in the last 2½ weeks to play four games that don’t count.
League rival Chivas interrupted its Liga MX season last month for a 2,500-mile round trip to Las Vegas for a lucrative exhibition with Juventus.
So when the teams take the field Wednesday at SoFi Stadium, América to play LAFC and Chivas to face the Galaxy, don’t expect their best players to be giving their all for 90 minutes. The same goes for the two MLS clubs, who are too deep in tight league races of their own to put much stock in meaningless friendlies.
The exhibitions are intended to hype the Leagues Cup, a monthlong tournament featuring all 47 teams from MLS and Liga MX, that will kick off next summer. Those games will mean something, Wednesday’s games will not, although organizers said Tuesday that more than 70,000 tickets have been distributed and the doubleheader is sold out.
Still embattled América coach Fernando Ortiz, whose exhausted players have won just one of their last eight games and are 15th in the 18-team Liga MX standings, just two points out of the cellar, said the ruthlessly compacted schedule is no reason for his team’s poor play.
“That’s not an excuse,” Ortiz, whose team hasn’t played at home since early July, said in Spanish. “I don’t like to make excuses. We’re going to go forward in the same way.
“I’m not going to put in my head ‘look at what happened, look at what’s coming.’ No. Tomorrow is the game and we have to play well.”
América just won’t do it with all its first-team players. Although all four coaches were under some pressure to use their starters in the Leagues Cup showcase, Ortiz sent five players – midfielders Álvaro Fidalgo and Diego Valdés and defenders Luis Fuentes Jorge Sánchez and Néstor Araujo – back to Mexico to do what a team official called “ soft training.” In their place, Ortiz called up two defenders from America’s U-20 reserve team.
Chivas coach Ricardo Cadena, whose team (0-1-5) is winless in Liga MX play but a point ahead of América (1-3-1) in the table, is also trying to walk that fine line between taking the friendly with the Galaxy seriously and protecting its players, who are nearing the end of a streak that will see them play seven times in 20 days.
As a result, fans at SoFi will recognize the four teams’ iconic uniforms Wednesday, they just may not recognize all the players wearing them – especially in the second half.
Galaxy coach Greg Vanney, whose team is one point below the MLS playoff line with 12 matches to play, suggested the Chivas game will be something of a training exercise for his club.
“A lot of the Cup competitions, especially at this time of year when we’re starting to get into the second half, are fit into a congested schedule,” he said. “We’re going to use the match as a means to work on some things that we want to work on.
“It’s an important match for the league. It’s a showcase for the fans that are going to be there. But for us it’s an opportunity to work on some things as we continue to prepare for our season.”
The two games, which will be played on a grass carpet laid over SoFi’s artificial turf, are the latest additions to a growing partnership between MLS and Mexico’s Liga MX. In addition to next summer’s tournament, the two leagues will also square off in next week’s MLS All-Star Game.
And those interactions have helped close what was once a sizable gap in the level of play between the two leagues.
“MLS is for all of us a clear example of improvement,” Cadena said in Spanish. “They are either very close to, or the same as, the level of the clubs in Mexico. They compete in a good way, they have players from abroad and many international players have also come. For me, it is a very attractive and very competitive league.”
For LAFC coach Steve Cherundolo, a former World Cup defender who knows well the rivalry between the Mexican and US national teams, the new competitiveness between the leagues is welcome.
“It’s catching on and that’s great,” he said. “Anytime we can add more emotion to games, the better the game will be. And the more it means to fans.
“Developing these relationships or these rivalries is important.”
This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.