Saturday night, one of the most anticipated matches of the young Mexican soccer season will finally take place: El Súper Clásico between Club América and Chivas de Guadalajara. “El Clásico de Clásicos” pits Mexico’s two most popular and successful teams against each other in a historic rivalry that can match any around the world, and this year’s edition should be more explosive than ever. That’s because Chivas bounced back from a run of bad results just in time to ruin Club América’s centenary celebration last season, a fact that Chivas CEO Jorge Vergara trolled long and hard about (he dedicated Chivas’ Copa MX win to America coach Ricardo La Volpe, for example). That this came just a couple of years after América passed Chivas on the all-time champions list for Liga MX only heightens the tension as the teams head into Guadalajara’s Estadio Omnilife on Saturday.
So, how did we get here? Born out of a culture clash, as most soccer rivalries are, Chivas and Club América represent two different sides of Mexico’s economy. Club América, based out of Mexico City, is seen as the team for the rich, so much so that it was called “los millonarios” for a time, as the club spent millions on foreign players to boost success throughout their history. On the other hand, Chivas has been known as the “equipo del pueblo,” a team for the people by the people, with mostly Mexican players. (That’s not to say Chivas don’t have money to spend; in fact, their CEO, Jorge Vergara, has put funds into making the team unique by streaming their games.)
Prior to 2015, Chivas had been struggling to get success on a consistent basis for a few years; times were hard enough on the team that they were almost relegated to Liga de Ascenso, something that was unheard of for a team of their stature and importance in Mexican football. The lowest point came in 2014, when Club América walked into Estadio Omnilife and whomped Chivas 4-0. Fan support was at its lowest then, and Chivas needed to do something to keep up with their hated rivals. Enter Matias Almeyda.
The former Argentinian national player turned manager had previously guided River Plate in his homeland back to the Primera Division, and he came into Guadalajara with a similar task. The results were stunning and immediate: in his first year as Chivas boss, Almeyda guided the storied club back to the promised land, reaching the Copa MX final in both the Clausura and Apertura seasons, winning the latter. That success was kept going, and in the current season, Chivas enters El Super Clásico in fourth place.
On the other side of the match, Club América has had a similarly uneven recent trajectory. In 2014, the club became the winningest in Mexican history, as they won their 12th championship, putting them one ahead of, you guessed it, Chivas. But in celebrating their centenary year in 2016, Club América had their party ruined by Chivas, who beat them twice in Estadio Azteca, Mexico’s most famous soccer venue. In fact, it was the 3-0 defeat at that stadium that got Club América’s manager, Ignacio Ambríz, fired; an eerily similar result to the 4-0 handed down by Chivas that eventually spurred their comeback into the top echelon of Mexican football. That was one of the record seven matches in 2016 between the clubs, including their penalty showdown in the semifinals of the Copa MX, which saw Chivas advance at the expense of América.
So now, we find ourselves in a key year for both teams; Chivas is looking to win its first Liga MX title since 2006, while Club América wants to prove that last year’s centenario was just a fluke and that their runner-up finish in Apertura 2016 was a better representation of the team’s quality. Given that both teams are performing well to start the Clausura this year, El Super Clásico should provide a match fitting their storied rivalry. Perhaps we will get a repeat of their classic during the Clausura of 2005, which saw both teams fight tooth and nail on the way to a 3-3 tie. Whatever the result, Mexico’s biggest rivalry is sure to provide drama and passion matched in few places worldwide.