MEXICO CITY -- The stage is set for a rematch five years in the making. Club America and Cruz Azul will battle for the Liga MX title, after the former took care of Pumas 6-1 in the second leg of the semifinal.
Miguel Herrera made changes to his starting eleven, notably benching striker Oribe Peralta in favor of a one-forward set starring Roger Martinez, who missed a penalty kick in the first leg of the series. In going with one central attacker, Herrera bet big on using speed to attack from the wings. It paid off quickly.
In just the eighth minute, Renato Ibarra found space on the right side, barreling into the box and launching a seemingly uncomplicated shot in Alfredo Saldivar's direction. Saldivar, the hero for Pumas in the first leg, was unable to stop the ball on its way to the back of the net for the game's opening goal.
Needing two goals to swing the series, Pumas responded against the run of play with a fantastic set piece. In the 23rd minute, Pablo Barrera took a short corner, shaded toward goal and sent a cross past Paul Aguilar and into Carlos Gonzalez's head, who leapt and smashed the ball past a diving Agustin Marchesin to tie the match.
After the initial shock of conceding passed, Club America used a corner of their own to pull ahead once more. A fantastic individual play from Diego Lainez set up a corner kick that Matheus Uribe took from the left side. Uribe's cross found Bruno Valdez, and the Paraguay international scored his seventh goal of the Apertura to make it 2-1 just four minutes after Pumas had drawn level.
Despite the lead, Pumas still needed just one goal to move on -- a situation Herrera made abundantly clear to his players. Thus, the home team maintained pressure up front, leading Alfredo Saldivar to again make a crucial mistake. On a routine defensive clearance, Saldivar went short instead of long, with Renato Ibarra taking the ball in the box and finding Martinez, who converted a spectacular diving kick and score Club America's third goal of the contest.
Though the result at half-time required Pumas once again try for just two goals -- Club America seemed more at an urgency to score. Less than a minute into the second half, a corner kick found Guido Rodriguez open in the box. The Argentine midfielder shot past Saldivar to grab a fourth goal in the match.
Las Aguilas piled on minutes later, when a break saw Renato Ibarra speed up field and find Diego Lainez on a low cross. The 18-year-old Lainez slotted home past Saldivar to officially put the game out of reach with a lofty 5-1 score line.
The strike meant that for only the first time since 1966, Club America put up five goals in a derby match against Pumas. They weren't done yet.
Martinez darted between Saldivar and defender Alejandro Arribas, who appeared to push him just outside the six-yard box, prompting the referee's call. In the 71st minute, it would be Emmanuel Aguilera, and not Martinez, who took the penalty kick and beat Saldivar to widen the gap further. No team had scored six or more in a playoff game since Santos put up seven against Morelia in 2010.
With the result, Club America will join Cruz Azul in the Liga MX final, a redux of their spectacular Clausura 2013 final, in which Cruz Azul led by two goals with one minute to go in regulation. Late goals from Aquivaldo Mosquera and goalkeeper Moises Munoz sent the game into extra time and eventually penalties. By way of Miguel Layun's successful attempt, Club America won its eleventh title and prolonged Cruz Azul's drought -- which now stands 21 years long.