The Mexican Clausura playoffs began this week and as is always the case, will be the most watched club football event on US TV for the first six months of the year.
But this year’s playoffs are completely different from the American perspective. For the first time in recent memory, American Footballers are playing critical roles for playoff participants.
Jose Francisco Torres is no longer a mystery to US National Team supporters but his progress continues to amaze many. The left footed attacking midfielder scored a wonder goal, Pachuca’s second of the match and ultimately the game winner in a 3-1 victory over Jaguares last night. Torres’ impact wasn’t just felt on that cracker of a goal but all over the pitch where he helped stimulate quick counter attacks and linked up well with Pachuca’s other midfielders and attackers.
Torres’ experience playing a key role for one of North America’s top clubs has allowed him to emerge as a regular selection for Bob Bradley’s National Team. While other left footed American midfielders struggle in Europe, Torres is lighting the Mexican league on fire with his clutch play and attacking prowess.
Indios, the equivalent of a recent expansion team in American sporting leagues has also been a remarkable story. After being promoted last May, the club which plays its games in Juarez on the US border was tipped for relegation. From August until March, Indios looked destined to go back down, until a late season surge not only ensured top flight football next year for the club but actually saw a playoff birth gained.
Marco Vidal, an American has emerged as a key defender for the club and has emerged on the US National Team radar thanks to his strong late season play. Vidal who recently told Yanks Abroad that he’d welcome the opportunity to represent the US this summer has to be considered strongly by Coach Bradley.
Last night, Vidal helped anchor a defense that was remarkably solid against legendary club Toluca. Indios bent at times but did not break, keeping their shape at critical times and stimulating several opportunities with quick clearances and nice one touch football. The final scoreline was a remarkable 1-0 Indios win, giving the Juarez club real hope in the second leg. Toluca no doubt are still the favorite, but Vidal and his backline mates have been outstanding in the run up to the playoffs as well as last night, so anything could very well happen.
Vidal and Torres weren’t the only Americans in “play-off” action last night. Even though the British media ridicules MLS, the FMF and Austrailian A- Leagues for the use of play-offs to determine a champion, it’s always ironic to me that the Football League uses playoffs to determine a final promotion spot.
Zac Whitbread a star for the US U-20 team that defeated Lionel Messi and Argentina a few short years ago advanced over Mike Grella and Leeds 2-1 on aggregate. Now Whitebread faces another American Jemel Johnson at Wembley in the playoff final which will determine which side advances to the English Championship next year.