MEXICO CITY -- "Oribeeeeee Peraaaaltaaaaaa, Oribeeeeee Peraaaaltaaaaaa!," sung Club America's supporters group, La Monumental, as the veteran striker walked off the field. He was one of the last America players to walk into the tunnel after Las Aguilas advanced to the semifinals. Over 180 minutes, neither America nor Cruz Azul could get on the scoreboard.
In the Clasico Joven Liguilla series, Peralta missed a penalty in the first leg and had two great shots on target that he couldn't put in the back of the net on Sunday night, yet America's faithful wasn't recriminating him for a below par display through the 180 minutes. The crowd's demonstration of appreciation was confirmation that Peralta doesn't need to score to please the demanding America fan base. His heart and warrior-like conviction as he fights for every lost ball are details that Americanistas appreciate from Peralta, and at 33-years-old, he's beginning to turn into one of the most revered players to come to America in the last decade.
The emotions after eliminating Paco Jemez's Cruz Azul were reserved; there was no exaltation like on other occasions, as was the case last year in the 2016 Apertura quarterfinals when America eliminated Chivas. That night in Guadalajara, there was loud banda music coming from America's dressing rooms, and the players, alongside manager Ricardo La Volpe, were savoring every instant of the night. Peralta went on to score the decisive goal that gave America a 2-1 aggregate score to win the heated series.
Miguel "Piojo" Herrera was the first one to admit that America's are having problem scoring, and that it is he and his coaching staff's job to get America's forwards rolling again. A 0-0 result over the two-legged series against Tigres won't get them to the final.
It is in this present dilemma where Peralta becomes the main actor. He's Las Aguilas' main scoring threat, so many of the team's best scoring chances will land on his boots. Against Tigres, America likely will not have much possession of the ball, as was the case against Cruz Azul. America's number of shots on target will likely be similar to what it had in the quarterfinals.
In the regular season, America averaged 4.4 shots on target, but it led the league in successful tackle rate at 59 percent, per InStat. These stats paint a little bit of a picture of what America has become since La Volpe took over the club's coaching job in Sept. 2016. With La Volpe and now Herrera as manager, America has been marked by maintaining a defensive order, which at times can include a backline of four or five. Peralta's work rate is essential for this style because he's a forward that gives a lot to the team, especially when defending against a team that commands the possession of the ball.
"Everyday I tell him not to lose confidence," Herrera began to detail on Peralta's current state and what he expects from him in the upcoming series against Tigres, a team America has played against in three finals since 2014. "It's actually something key that Oribe has: he never puts his head down, he never quits, and he fights for every ball. He has great dedication and like football commentators say, 'se le moja la pólvora a los delanteros' (idiom for strikers going through a scoring drought), but in these next days, he could catch a hot scoring streak and be the important player that he's always been.
"We're going to work hard so he can maintain his confidence, and keep having clear scoring chances. I'm sure his goalscoring skills will return. We're also hoping that Darwin [Quintero] retains his finishing skills, Cecilio [Dominguez] and Renato [Ibarra], too. We have to create damage because a 0-0 won't save us," he warned.
Peralta has become the face of this current America. Although America dealt with injuries and important suspensions like Edson Alvarez and Mateus Uribe's for the second leg against Cruz Azul, the team's fighting spirit was key in keeping Cruz Azul scoreless through 180 minutes.
Heading into the series against Tigres, America's scoring issues can't be ignored because the team has only scored three times in seven games, which include league and cup games. However, Las Aguilas have not conceded a goal in their last four matches.
After a tough series win in the Clasico Joven, Peralta's time to come up big once again for Las Aguilas is nearing, and that appreciation that was shown on Sunday night will only get bigger.