Coming right on the heels of Copa Mexico de Naciones, a u-15 national team tournament in Mexico City, capital clubs América, and Cruz Azul hosted the 4th edition of the Copa Independencia. Founded in 2010, the Copa Independencia is an elite u-17 international club tournament held in August in Mexico City every year. In the past the competition has drawn the likes of Peñarol (URU), Sao Paulo, Santos and Internacional (BRA), Boca Juniors and River Plate (ARG), CSKA Moscow (RUS), Barcelona (SPA), and Fiorentina (ITA). Previous editions of the tournament were won by Sao Paulo in 2010, Boca Juniors in 2011, and Chivas last year.
This year’s edition of the tournament, from August 19 to 25, boasted some of the most storied clubs from the Americas yet again with Corinthians from Brazil and Universidad de Chile sending youth squads. Not to discredit these teams but the Spanish contingent stole the headlines as both Real Madrid and Barcelona flew youth teams across the Atlantic to compete. 6 Mexican sides round out the 10-team field, with Toluca, Tigres, Pumas, and Chivas joining joint-hosts Cruz Azul and América.
The format was the same as past years with 5 consecutive matchdays for the 2 groups of 5 teams. With two games on each day, one team has a bye while the other 4 play.
Chivas emerged victorious from Group A with wins against Real Madrid, Cruz Azul, and Tigres and a draw against Corinthians. Tigres advanced to the semifinals as the second placed team. In group B, Pumas defeated Universidad de Chile, lost to América, drew to Toluca, and somewhat surprisingly beat Barcelona to take first place. Universidad’s 2-1-1 record was good enough for second place and a place in the semifinals.
The Chilean club faced the 2012 reigning champions from Guadalajara in the first semifinal match while the second matchup was an all Mexican affair between Pumas and Toluca.
In the first semifinal, Chivas de Guadalajara enjoyed a narrow win over Universidad de Chile to earn their ticket to their the final. The match between Tigres and Pumas was tied at 1-1 after regulation and in the ensuing penalty shootout, Tigres won 5-3 to face Chivas. The losers of those matches played the third place match on Sunday morning at Cruz Azul’s training ground, La Noria. The final match, however, was played at Mexico’s national stadium, the Estadio Azteca.
Pumas took the lead in the third place match but Universidad de Chile battled back to draw level in the second half. Just as clouds where rolling in over the field at La Noria, Pumas scored the go ahead goal to make sure that the top three placed teams at this year’s tournament were all Mexican clubs.
Chivas faced Tigres in an all-Mexican final at Estadio Azteca. Fans of Rebaño Sagrado made their presence known from the outset by passionately cheering on the young Chivas players, but the game remained scoreless going into halftime.
Minutes into the second half, Chivas took the lead against the side from Nuevo Leon. Though Tigres fought hard to stay in the game, Chivas simply outclassed their opponents and became the first team to win back-to-back Copa Independencia titles.
Juan de Dios Aguallo, a wide defender who overlaps well impressed for Chivas along with forward Jesús Godinez. Forward Jesús René Delgado also drew plenty of praise for Tigres.
Though the tournament provided quality in every match, I was disappointed not to see American clubs participate again this year. Last year, MLS clubs were recovering from the Generation Adidas Cup when the Copa Independencia started and were therefore unable to participate. In 2013 there wasn’t a similar conflict but no American teams flew to Mexico City for the international tournament. If the tournament organizers didn’t invite any clubs from the States, what say that say about the perception of the quality of MLS academies?
Notable international youth players were involved in this edition of the annual tournament such as Barcelona’s promising Seung-Ho Paik (or Park), who has been nicknamed the Korean Messi and Scottish whizkid forward Jack Harper who featured prominently for Real Madrid.
Mexico’s u-17 National Team:
A number of quality Mexican players were not with their clubs for the Copa Independencia, but instead were on a South American tour preparing for Mexico’s participation in the FIFA u-17 World Cup in United Arab Emirates, which will be held in late October to early November.
Playing under u-17 head coach Raúl Gutiérrez, the Mexican national team played 4 matches against youth sides while their club teammates competed in the Copa Independencia. Mexico’s u-17 team defeated River Plate, lost to Boca Juniors, and beat San Lorenzo de Almagro and the Uruguayan national team. Toluca forward Diego Gama, Marco Granados of Chivas, and América duo John Brandon González and Alejandro Díaz are prominent youth players who missed the Mexico City club tournament due to national team commitments. Pachuca’s Fernando Ochoa and José Almanza and Ulises Jaimes of Monarcas Morelia also performed well with the national team in South America.
On Monday morning, the Mexican u-17 national team learned their opponents in the group stage of the World Cup. Mexico will face Nigeria, Iraq, and Sweden in group F play as the young Tricolor begin to defend their u-17 title from 2011.