Eight teams entered, and now only four remain. Such is the cruelty of the Liga MX liguilla. Tijuana had a nearly perfect season, and now they’re gone, eliminated at the hands of León, who snuck into the playoffs on the final day. The higher seed was upset in three out of four series’, with Tigres being the lone survivor of the top four in the semifinals. Here is the most important thing we learned from each quarterfinal series:
Tijuana vs León: No Lead is Safe. Perhaps we didn’t exactly learn this, but this series definitely served as a reminder that there is no such thing as cruising in the second leg of a playoff series. Tijuana, it seemed, were finished after the first leg, but when the return match came they had already caught up by halftime despite being down a man. They would have advanced as the higher seed had the score remained 3-3, but León broke the deadlock late and clinched a berth in the semis.
Pachuca vs Necaxa: Anything is Possible. It’s well known that Liga MX is the land of opportunity. Thanks to the playoff system, a team can win without an infinite supply of money or a legion of elite overseas players. Necaxa are the latest and brightest example of this in a long time.
It’s been the narrative all year, “Look, Necaxa prove that a newly promoted team can survive.”
“Look, Necaxa prove that a newly promoted team can make the liguilla.”
And now we say, “Look, Necaxa prove that a newly promoted team can win a playoff series against anyone.”
It’s the truth. Los Rayos have made genius signings (Edson Puch chief among them) and have been brilliantly coached. If Dorados’ campaign from last year made you think we were in an era where the promoted team couldn’t do much, Necaxa will make you think again.
Tigres vs Pumas: Gignac is Back. It had been an awfully long time since Andre Pierre Gignac had found the back of the net. In fact, Gignac hadn’t scored since the Puebla match way back in mid-September. But in front of the home fans that he loves so much, he found his mark not once but three times. Gignac’s hat-trick sealed the a massive series victory for Tigres as they pummeled Pumas 5-0 in the second leg. Expect more goals from him in the next round.
Chivas vs América: América Overcome Road Woes. Not long ago, it was fair to say Las Aguilas were having an identity crisis. They were only the feared, evil overlords of Mexico when playing at their own fortress, Estadio Azteca. On the road, they had tied their last 5 matches, so when they tied the first leg at home things didn’t look too good for them.
The 1-0 win in the second leg was a big statement. It was América’s first road shutout this season, and just their third shutout overall. This team has been awful defensively, but now it’s liguilla time, and it looks like the rulers of Liga MX are poised to clamp down on defense, overcome their troubles and take back their crown.