Wildcard round returns to Liga MX postseason

Liga MX repechaje

The Chivas will have to take on Necaxa in the wildcard round without its two top scorers, J.J. Macías (left) and Alexis Vega (right). (Photo by Alfredo Lopez/Jam Media/Getty Images)

Eight teams battle over four open spots in ‘Liguilla’

The FIFA break is over and the Liga MX is heading straight into Wildcard Weekend.

For the first time in 12 years, the Liga MX playoffs offer a wildcard round with eight teams vying for the four open slots in the quarterfinals. Also known as the “Liguilla,” the brackets are already filled by the four top seeds – León, UNAM, América and Cruz Azul – who are eagerly waiting to see who their opponents will be.

The FIFA break was not kind to some of the wildcard teams, however. Hardest hit perhaps was the Chivas who lost forward Alexis Vega to injury. The shifty attacker suffered severe ankle damage while on duty with Mexico’s Under-23 national team.

In addition to the loss of Vega, Guadalajara’s leading scorer J.J. Macías aggravated a thigh strain that caused him to miss the last game of the season and he has been ruled out, too.

The last time the Liga MX featured the “Repechaje” – sort of like a “play-in game” – was in May 2008.  It was first introduced in 1992 as a way to collect more playoff revenues by adding extra playoff games (and higher ticket prices).

Across those 16 years with “Repechajes” (29 wildcard series in all), only three wildcard teams took home the Liga MX trophy – Pachuca in Invierno 1999, Morelia in Invierno 2000 and the Chivas in Apertura 2006.

There’s some consideration that the Guardianes 2020 champion could come out of the “Repechaje.” The sixth-seeded Tigres and No. 5 Monterrey boast championship-caliber line-ups and deep benches. Neither is expected to be troubled by their wildcard opponents.

The two “Regiomontano” clubs blew chances to finish in the Top 4 by failing to win on the final weekend. The Tigres won only one of their final three games, sleepwalking to a 1-1 draw at home against Atlas in the finale, missing out on a first-round bye by 1 point.

As for the Rayados, a draw at Guadalajara on Matchday 17 would have been enough to take the first playoff weekend off. Instead, “The Striped Gang” wasted opportunities throughout and then watched the Chivas score three times in the final 10 minutes to walk away with the win.

The two Monterrey teams will host the last two teams to qualify for the Liga MX postseason. The Tigres host No. 11 Toluca on Sunday, Nov. 22, and No. 12 Puebla visits the Rayados later that same night.

In Saturday’s wildcard match-ups, No. 8 Santos Laguna hosts No. 9 Pachuca in the opener with No. 10 Necaxa visiting No. 7 Guadalajara in the nightcap.

Liga MX playoff records, stats

Pachuca at Santos Laguna

These two teams have met four times in the playoffs with the Tuzos coming out on top three times. Both teams are chasing a seventh league championship trophy. Santos is in the postseason for the 37th time while Pachuca is making its 27th playoff appearance. These two teams played to a 1-1 draw on Matchday 14 in Santos’ Estadio Corona, the site of Saturday’s do-or-die match.

Necaxa at Guadalajara

The Rayos have never been eliminated in the playoffs by the Chivas, advancing all three times the teams have faced each other. Necaxa also defeated Guadalajara in the Winter 1998 season to claim its third and most recent Liga MX trophy. The Chivas are in the playoffs for the 44th time, finally ending a postseason drought that stretches back to its most recent title-winning season, the Clausura 2017. They are looking for their 13th Liga MX trophy. Necaxa is making its 27th playoff appearance. The Rayos lost 2-1 at home to the Chivas on Matchday 10.

Puebla at Monterrey

Surprisingly, “La Franja” leads its all-time playoff series against Monterrey 2-0, ousting the Rayados most recently by a 5-3 aggregate score in the Clausura 2009 quarterfinals. Monterrey are the defending champs (having won the Apertura 2019 title) and is chasing a 6th league championship in its 38th postseason appearance. Puebla is in the playoffs for just the 23rd time and has two titles, its last one coming in May 1990. Monterrey defeated visiting Puebla 3-1 on Matchday 14.

Toluca at Tigres

The Tigres have never lost to Toluca in the postseason, winning all four previous encounters. However, in those four series, the Tigres only won one time at “El Volcán”, only managing a 1-3-0 record against the visiting Diablos Rojos. Toluca is third all-time with 10 Liga MX titles and they are in the playoffs for the 44th time. The Tigres are chasing their 9th league trophy in their 38th appearance. Host Toluca stunned the Tigres on Matchday 5 with a goal in minute 90+3 to win 3-2.