Champions League

"A great opportunity for both clubs" | Timbers' Liga MX veterans embracing América challenge

20210426 yimmi chara

BEAVERTON, Ore. — It was one week before Club América arrived in Portland, and Cristhian Paredes and Josecarlos Van Rankin were waiting for an interview beside the Timbers’ training field. Both players have been a part of North America’s biggest soccer rivalry, América versus Chivas de Guadalajara, giving each a view on the Timbers’ next Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League opponent.

“They are the biggest club in Mexico,” Parades, a former América player, said, nodding at Van Rankin. Van Rankin is currently on loan from Chivas.

The grandiosity Paredes emphasized is part of any match against Las Aguilas. They are the biggest club in North America, a status that goes beyond the 10 Concacaf titles they’ve claimed or the 25 different honors they’ve amassed in Mexico. Club América has 4.1 million followers on Twitter as well as 2.8 million on Instagram. That’s more than Major League Soccer has as a league on either platform, speaking to the global following the club’s amassed since it was founded 104 years ago.

The Timbers have five players who have played in Liga MX before, but few will be as familiar with América’s dynamic as Paredes and Van Rankin. Paredes signed with América as an 18-year-old near the end of 2016. Van Rankin was part of multiple Súper Clásicos during his time with the Rojiblancos.

“Anytime you’re playing at [Estadio] Azteca,” América’s legendary home, Van Rankin explained, “it’s a beautiful experience. It’s great to just be there.”

“They play at a level that’s as high as any team in this part of the world,” Yimmi Chará, who spent time in Mexico with CF Monterrey, said. “They’ve been doing very important things when it comes to capturing their vision of the sport. We’re going to have to play at a very high level to match that.”

This is why a meeting with América will always be special. No matter where they are in Mexico’s league standings, they’ll still have that iconic C and A on their crest. The map of North America behind the club’s initials hints at an impact that transcends the region, while their venue — also the Mexican national team’s home stadium — is one of the world’s most famous.

Whether the team is enjoying a good year or bad, América is a marquee opponent. And for teams outside of Mexico, there’s history to be made anytime América comes to town.

“We're excited to have the opportunity to play, match up against a strong team - a team that has a lot of history in North America,” Giovanni Savarese said shortly after the CCL quarterfinal schedule was announced. “It's one of the best clubs in America, all around …”

Part of that “all around” is how América has played this year. They’re the only team in Mexico that has been able to keep Cruz Azul, a team that’s been undefeated since January 16, within reach. América was only two points behind La Maquina in the Clausura  standings before rotating their team for Sunday’s match at Toluca. The 3-1 loss was Las Aguilas’ first in league play in eight rounds.

“América is at a different level,” Paredes said, referencing both the team and the point Portland has reached in this year’s Champions League competition. “It’s going to be a very good game, but also a very difficult game. Together, [the two teams are] a great matchup.”

América has won the current version of Champions League twice, completing the second of back-to-back titles in 2016. They’ve also won eight other Concacaf trophies, though they’re far from unbeatable. In terms of MLS opposition, Toronto FC eliminated América from Champions League in 2018, accomplishing a feat Portland hopes to replicate next week: leaving as victors after a second leg at Azteca.

“There is a difference playing [at Azteca],” Paredes explained. “We’ve got a great atmosphere in [Portland], and there are big stadiums in [MLS], but there, it’s more of an atmosphere that will remind you of the great venues in South America. What they do at Azteca, it is different. We have to be focused and prepared for that.”

It’s all part of the challenge. As Van Rankin said, “America has some of the best players in Mexico,” but his new team “is going to be very well prepared to face them.” “It’s a team that has many dynamic players who can make a big difference,” he said, but “I’ve been on teams that have prepared to face them, before.”

“This is a great opportunity for both clubs,” Chara said. “We’re playing soccer, and we know that means that people could be left crying, or that anything can be accomplished. The important thing is that you show that you use this tournament to show everything you’re capable of, and that you’re mentally prepared to be your best in the most difficult games.”

And for the Timbers who’ve experienced Azteca before, the opportunity to show that best against a team like América is what will make the next week special.

“You never know when you’re going to get chance to play games like this again,” Paredes said. “It’s a big team, a big opportunity, and we’re going to embrace it.”

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