It’s just another preseason tuneup. But as far as Luis Michel is concerned, the El Super Clasico match between Chivas Guadalajara and Club America might as well be the real thing.
The most intense rivalry in Mexican pro soccer, which dates to 1943, comes to Sam Boyd Stadium at 8 p.m. Wednesday. And Michel, Chivas’ goalkeeper, said a win is critical.
“America is the champion, and games like this are important as we get ready for the season,” he said of the Liga MX 2013-14 campaign, which begins this month. “Whenever we play America, a lot of pride is at stake.”
To put in terms what Chivas-America means, it’s similar to the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers in basketball or the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins in football. Chivas and Club America have support throughout Mexico and beyond.
Club America won its 11th championship in May to equal Chivas’ total. And while America was celebrating, Chivas was regrouping after a disappointing regular season in which it finished near the bottom with a 3-7-7 record.
Michel, 33, knows that things need to improve quickly or changes will be forthcoming.
“The pressure to win is always there, so you need to stay focused,” he said. “We have to think the entire game, not parts of it, for us to have success.”
Michel has seen improved play in Liga MX during the 10 years he has played. With more players coming from overseas and South America, the skill level has risen tremendously.
“When I first began playing, there were certain games you knew you would win, no problem,” he said. “Today, every game is hard. There’s a lot of competition. You can’t relax.
“The league is so much more competitive. You can be at the bottom one year and at the top the next. That is our hope for this coming season, to get back to the top.”
But the pressure of playing a league game is nothing compared to representing one’s country. And Mexico is battling to qualify for next year’s World Cup in Brazil.
With four games remaining in qualifying, “El Tri” is third in the CONCACAF standings behind the United States and Costa Rica, a point ahead of Honduras. The top three from the six-team final group automatically qualify for the World Cup.
Mexico and Honduras will meet when qualifying resumes Sept. 6 at Azteca Stadium in Mexico City in a must-win game for both teams. Michel, a member of Mexico’s 2010 World Cup team, knows what the current team is going through.
“People want you to win,” said Michel, who is part of the player pool for World Cup qualifying but has yet to be called up. “You’re expected to win.
“It seems that Mexico plays better against the better teams. But Mexico needs to find the form needed to play in these games and be successful. It’s complicated, but I believe they will get to the World Cup.”
Michel fondly remembers his World Cup experience in South Africa, where Mexico finished second in its group and advanced to the knockout stage before being eliminated by Argentina, 3-1.
“As a little boy, you dream of one day playing in the World Cup, and suddenly your dream comes true,” Michel said. “I remember being on the field, seeing all the people, hearing all the sounds. It was an amazing feeling playing against the best players in the world.”
For now, he’s focusing on Wednesday. Chivas is 5-0 in the preseason, and a win over America would give it some much-needed momentum entering the regular season.
“This isn’t about getting three points as much as it is building confidence,” Michel said. “We play our first game against Santos (Laguna), and we have to be ready.”
Contact reporter Steve Carp at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2913. Follow him on Twitter: @stevecarprj.