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Until recently, goalkeeper Luis Malagón was an untested backup on Club América‘s bench. After Sunday’s title-winning Liga MX final, he proved why he’s not only been Las Aguilas‘ best player of the 2024 Clausura, but also the best in all of Liga MX.

Years after nearly walking away from his dreams due to missing his family — and his mother’s home-cooked meals — when he was a teenager with Santos Laguna’s academy system, the Michoacan native stood tall in net over the weekend with five highlight-worthy saves in a 1-0 win over Cruz Azul that secured a second consecutive title for Club América. With the trophy clinched after the 2-1 aggregate victory, and Malagón keeping the crosstown rivals scoreless in the second leg, the Mexico City giants extended their record tally of Liga MX trophies to 15.

As for Malagón on the path to the final, he finished the regular season as the goalkeeper with the best goals prevented rating (5.44). Of the 13 Liga MX players who had 15+ regular season games in net, none surpassed his noteworthy save percentage of 78.2%. Not bad for a humble figure who was once an afterthought for Club América just months ago.

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Arriving ahead of the 2023 Clausura in the looming shadow of departing goalkeeping legend Guillermo Ochoa, Malagón initially didn’t win over then-manager Fernando Ortiz. When the Clausura kicked off, the up-and-comer waited patiently on the sideline as he watched the more senior Óscar Jiménez earn consecutive starts in net for Las Aguilas.

Past the halfway point of the season, Ortiz then decided to alter his XI after an especially poor performance from Jiménez in a 3-0 loss at home to Pachuca. In a baptism by fire, Malagón found himself earning his first start with Club América in arguably the most intimidating venue in Mexican soccer.

During an away game against Tigres at their home ground that is nicknamed El Volcan (The Volcano), Malagón impressed with a clean sheet in a 2-0 victory in March 2023. An eight-game undefeated streak was maintained while Malagón ruled between the sticks, and by the time the following 2023 Apertura tournament rolled around under the leadership of new coach André Jardine, the No. 1 spot was his.

Powering their way to first in the Apertura standings and an eventual spot in the Liga MX final, Club América were molded into both the best offense and defense by Jardine. Malagón helped lead the backline in front of him, and in the Apertura championship series vs. Tigres, he allowed just one goal over 180+ minutes. After helping secure a 4-1 aggregate win that cemented Club América’s 14th championship, Malagón was unpretentious about his celebration plans.

“The only thing I want is to go to Michoacan now,” the goalkeeper told Claro Sports. “Get home, that my mom makes me bean tacos, a grilled steak and a molcajete salsa.”

Powered by home-cooked meals in the preseason, or perhaps given extra confidence through call-ups for Mexico‘s national team and Liga MX silverware, Malagón was nothing short of brilliant in the recently finished 2024 Clausura. In fact, the 27-year-old topped ESPN’s ranking of the best players of the regular season thanks to his game-changing saves that emerged week in and week out. On Sunday’s second leg of the Liga MX final in a rainy Estadio Azteca, one of those saves perfectly highlighted how significant he has become for the Mexico City side.

After already making four crucial interventions against a much more proactive Cruz Azul, Malagón kept Club América’s title hopes alive through a highly dramatic 91st-minute stop that would have equalized the scoreline. Had the shot from Cruz Azul’s Rodrigo Huescas gone in, thereby making it 1-1 in the second leg and 2-2 on aggregate, two halves of extra time would have been the likely outcome of the final.

“I have to throw myself, in whatever way,” Malagón told TUDN about his thought process. “But I think it was that adrenaline you have in the moment, and thank God it worked and we’re champions today.”

Credit should of course also be given to a leader like Jardine, to goal-scorer Henry Martín, and to pivotal players across the season such as Jonathan dos Santos, Álvaro Fidalgo and others that have helped clinch the back-to-back titles, but there’s no denying that Malagón was the savior. And on a much bigger stage this summer, Mexico will also be hoping that he could do the same for the national team.

Similar to filling the massive gloves of Ochoa over at Club América, Malagón will be doing the same for Mexico after news broke this month that the legendary five-time World Cup participant has been left out of the Copa América roster. As part of a generational shift that has dropped a handful of veteran players in the latest call-up, Malagón now suddenly finds himself as the most experienced international goalkeeper in Mexico’s roster with just four appearances to his name. So, can he have a comparable impact for club and country?

When Malagón arrived at Club América a little over a year ago, there was a sense that they were beginning to lose their grip as the most powerful team in Liga MX. One title in the previous 15 seasons wasn’t exactly the sign of a successful organization that is at its peak. Plenty of factors came into play, such as the momentous hiring of Jardine, but Malagón has been an invaluable part of the process that has led to two consecutive titles.

When looking at Mexico, the narrative of a fallen giant is one that’s similar to what Club América were going through before Malagón’s arrival. No longer the undisputed kings of North America, El Tri have struggled to keep pace with the United States and have had issues with other growing Concacaf nations. At the latest World Cup, Mexico also fell far short of expectations after an early exit in the group stage.

Malagón has waited patiently for his turn at the international stage, and at this summer’s Copa América, all signs point to him getting his chance to revive Mexico as well. Humble as ever though, he’ll be celebrating responsibly before possibly becoming El Tri‘s next savior.

“The only thing I want is to go to Michoacan, to my house, to my parents,” Malagón said with a smile to TUDN after clinching Sunday’s trophy. “Where there is no signal, there’s nothing.”

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