This is exactly how America drew up the offseason. Well, sort of.
A four-match spell in the playoffs without a single goal confirmed Las Aguilas had big-time issues up front. For a club as big as America, where manager Miguel Herrera is fond of saying any season that doesn’t end in a title is a failure, reinforcements were needed.
The club looked far and wide, being linked with seemingly every forward based in the Americas and some outside. Eventually, it signed Jeremy Menez, a Frenchman playing in Turkey, and Andres Ibarguen.
Another winter arrival, one who took much less work to bring to the club, is keeping both those players on the bench so far. Henry Martin’s hat trick in last week’s win over Lobos BUAP has taken him to five goals on the season, and the 25-year-old Mexican is set to start alongside Oribe “El Cepillo” Peralta again in this weekend’s showdown with Tigres.
“He’s surprised me, the number of goals he’s scoring surprises me because I know him well, but it’s good. That’s why we brought him in, to be with ‘El Cepillo,’ to fight with ‘El Cepillo.’ It’s very clear to me that he came in with a good attitude and lots of determination,” Herrera said Friday in his pregame news conference. “It doesn’t change much because that’s why we strengthened the team, to have these headaches that have us thinking, ‘Now, what are we going to do?’ I have to decide on the 18.”
So far, Martin’s place in the squad is secure. Martin earned a call-up to the Mexico national team before his hat trick and started El Tri’s 1-0 win over Bosnia & Herzegovina on the non-FIFA date. He has reason for concern, though, and feels he needs to continue showing Herrera his ability. The manager and forward worked together at Club Tijuana, where Herrera used Martin sparingly. Now, he’s doing his best to avoid being sent to the bench once again.
“He sent me a message when the transfer came through and he told me he wanted it to be like in Tijuana,” Martin said this week after his hat trick. “He told me, ‘I’m not promising you you’ll be a starter, but you will have the opportunity to play and compete with everyone else.'”
Currently, Martin is outshining everyone else, though Menez scored his debut goal last weekend. The choice has been relatively simple for Herrera: Stick with the hot hand.
All three of his goals against Lobos BUAP came from headers. He’s hardly a towering figure and typically scores by darting in front of a defender to beat him to a ball and finish or playing off the back shoulder and beating players to balls over the top. He’s benefited from what has been a superb season so far from Colombian midfielder Mateus Uribe.
G⚽⚽⚽L de Henry Martin@ClubAmerica 2-1 @Tuzos #Jornada2#Clausura2018#LIGABancomerMX
⚽ #SienteTuLiga ⚽ #AbrazadosPorElFutbolpic.twitter.com/PG0IoOUeYJ
— LIGA Bancomer MX (@LIGABancomerMX) January 14, 2018
The big question heading into the weekend is whether Martin can keep it up. So far his goals have come against subpar opposition, with Pumas the only team currently in the playoff positions that America has played in the first five matches. Tigres’ defense doesn’t seem to be locked into gear yet, but this weekend sees right back Luis “Chaka” Rodriguez return from suspension and Hugo Ayala and Juninho fit as the center backs. They’ll be tougher to get the better of than 10-man Lobos BUAP.
Tigres may have been the team that started the spending spree on attacking talent for America. It was the Liga MX semifinal in December that made it obvious what the difference between Tigres and America was at that time. America can boast of history, but Tigres thrashed America in both legs, keeping a clean sheet in both rounds on the way to the title.
How much progress have Las Aguilas made since then? Right now they’re flying high with Martin pushing them on. In El Volcan, where Tigres haven’t lost a league match since April 2017, just how real their turnaround has been is set to be put to the test Saturday.