Eight teams qualify for the Liguilla every season. And every season those eight teams take us on a rollercoaster of uncertainty that results in one champion. That champion is normally difficult to predict, illuminating the fact that no matter how a team qualifies they have a chance of claiming the title.
This norm of volatility seems to be finally dissipating. Last season the one-seed, Santos Laguna, motored through the competition to a long-awaited title. Now after the
quarterfinals, the top four seeds eliminated the lower seeds. They’ve played out exactly to form and for the most part without much contention. The first round of the playoffs provided few surprises due to the disparity between the top four and the four lower teams.
#4 Club America v #1 Toluca
– First leg in Mexico City: Thursday, 8:00 ET
– Second leg in Toluca: Sunday, 1:00 ET
Club America struggled a bit through their quarterfinal match-up with the Monarcas of Morelia. Despite their strong 2-nil victory in Morelia, America looked fairly unimpressive in the Estadio Azteca in the return leg. Morelia was one goal short of knocking off America in that match, and Morelia had several near-chances to make that a reality. They just couldn’t quite pull it off.
Toluca cruised through the quarterfinals like a hot knife through butter. With little let up from the abilities that sent them to the top of the table, a 5-2 aggregate score over Chivas didn’t tell the story of how lopsided these games truly were. Chivas put up about as much resistance as a dairy product. They were not ready or able to be a fully competitive playoff team. They snuck in as the eight-seed while still trying to build-up their roster and play together.
Hence, it’s difficult to truly assess Toluca’s playoff performance and their potential to get another trophy. Head coach, Enrique Meza’s playoff record may easily be cited. He has gotten it done in the past, especially with Toluca. For me, though, it’s hard to put a ton of stock in the resumes of managers. For the most part in a playoff situation it’s going to be up to the roster the manager and staff have put together. Will they be able to get it done during these crucial games or not? For Toluca, the answer for me is no.
The strongest four defensive squads this season relative to the number of goals conceded were Tijuana (15), Cruz Azul (15), Club America (15), and Morelia (16). In the four match-ups Toluca had with these strong defenses they totaled one goal. They were only able to muster one goal against these four tough defenses and that was by way of a penalty kick.
Toluca can score in bunches against weak-to-average defenses. However, they have yet to prove they can score with any regularity against a strong defense. Club America just so happens to possess one of the strongest defenses in the league.
America will have their hands full with Toluca, but they will also be able to keep them off the scoreboard. Club America is a lock to move through to the final.
#3 Leon v #2 Tijuana
– First leg in Leon: Thursday, 10:00 ET
– Second leg in Tijuana: Sunday, 7:30 ET
In August, I wrote a piece highlighting the dramatic ascent of these two squads. Apparently, I could’ve gone with a bit more hyperbole. The last two teams to win promotion to Liga MX have not only secured their place in the league, but are now on the verge of a title. One of these two contenders will be headed to the final with a great chance at capturing the title. Luckily, I have a pretty good idea of which team that will be.
Leon was able to surprise everyone by claiming the three-seed in their first season in the top division. In the process, they led the league in scoring and claimed a Copa Libertadores spot. Not too shabby for a bunch of newbies. They showed no signs of being troubled by the step up in competition all season long. Despite this, some people (crazies, like the author of this article) picked against them in the playoffs. It was the first time in the Liguilla in over ten years. It was entirely possibly that most of these players, who this was a new experience for, would be overwhelmed and underperform.
This didn’t happen. Leon played a solid game in Estadio Azul, which they were slightly unlikely to lose. They then followed up by dominating Cruz Azul in the return leg. The home
field advantage that Leon brings to the table is probably greatest in the league, including that of Tijuana. They play a physical, up-tempo style at home that smothers opponents and often leaves them griping for calls that aren’t coming. Leon is an absolute force to be reckoned with.
Tijuana easily passed through the quarterfinals while exacting revenge on the team that knocked them out last season, Monterrey. While the score line didn’t demonstrate a one-sided affair (Tijuana won 2-1 on aggregate), their defense once again nullified a dangerous offensive side. Monterrey was held scoreless until the 180th minute of these two matches. Tijuana rarely explodes for bunches of goals but will also prevent their opposition from doing so.
Tijuana only gave up more than two goals in one match this season. Back on July 27, they traveled south and were met by an opponent who hung four on the Tijuana defense. Their opponent that day … Leon.
In their eight home matches, Tijuana has allowed a total of four goals while remaining undefeated. Obviously, in this tight semifinal match-up the performance of the teams while traveling will be critical. With the first tie-breaker now being the number of away goals, the ability to score on the road will likely play a part in deciding who advances to the final. The Xolos of Tijuana know how poorly they played in their last trip to Leon in July. Coach Mohamed has likely made this a major talking point over the past few days. This trip to Leon on Thursday will likely decide the series. I fully expect Tijuana to respond and make a better showing this time. I expect them to score in Leon, and I expect them to score more in their return to Tijuana on Sunday. What I don’t expect and what I can’t see happening is Leon being able to make enough of an impact in Tijuana to get passed the Xolos when they lock things down.
The score line will be tight, as most are with the Xolos, but Tijuana will be moving on to the finals.