Liga MX: Mediocrity eclipses drama of midweek matchday

Orbelín Pineda and his Cruz Azul mates have not stood up well to the pressures of defending their Liga MX title. (Photo by Refugio Ruiz/Getty Images).
Orbelín Pineda and his Cruz Azul mates have not stood up well to the pressures of defending their Liga MX title. (Photo by Refugio Ruiz/Getty Images). /
Liga MX M13
América’s Sebastián Córdova (#10, far right) watches his header bounce into the net in minute 87, giving the Liga MX-leading Aguilas a 2-1 win over Santos. (Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images) /

América became the first Liga MX team to claim a playoff berth, but top seeds are unclaimed after several “contenders” stumbled during a midweek matchday.

A second straight mediocre round of results finds the Aguilas with a 9-point cushion atop the Liga MX table with three games remaining and a clump of pretenders treading water behind them. Only 15 goals were scored in the nine Matchday 13 contests which featured two scoreless draws

Atlas, Monterrey, Toluca, Cruz Azul, León and Guadalajara failed to win on Matchday 14, setting up a mad scramble for 11 postseason spots. With 9 points still available, no club is out of contention and only Tijuana is mathematically eliminated from a Top 4 seeding and a first-round playoff bye.

We won’t have to wait long for the next chapter of this Liga MX saga as Matchday 15 kicks off Friday night.

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For the second matchday in a row only two teams in the top 10 won, and América was one of those two teams again.

The Aguilas now have a very comfortable 8-point lead atop the Liga MX table and none of its pursuers seem inclined to give chase.

The Tigres were the other winning team this week while Atlas (2nd), Toluca (3rd) and the Chivas (9th) settled for draws and Monterrey (4th), León (6th), Atlético de San Luis (8th) and Mazatlán FC (10th) al lost.

That series of results allowed the Tigres to climb from 5th to 3rd, setting up a huge showdown in Estadio Azteca Saturday night. Not only will the Aguilas-Tigres clash be a legitimate Finals preview, it marks the return to “El Coloso de Santa Úrsula” for Miguel Herrera.

Herrera was axed by América last December after the Aguilas were knocked out of the playoffs in the quarterfinals by the Chivas followed shortly thereafter by a 3-1 loss to LAFC in the Concacaf Champions League semifinals. “El Piojo” was signed by the Tigres over the summer and he would love nothing more than to hand his first-ever home loss in a league match.

Santiago Solari is chasing the club’s all-time home unbeaten streak for a manager, held by Carlos Reinoso (19 straight in the 1982-83 season). “Los AzulCremas” have not lost at Estadio Azteca since the Argentine manager took over from Herrera in January.

Liga MX playoff spots up for grabs

Two other key matches are on the weekend calendar: holders Cruz Azul visit the Chivas on Saturday night while last season’s runner-up Santos Laguna hosts Toluca on Sunday.

The Cementeros have been treading water this season, a shadow of the team that marched to the title last season to end a 23-year drought. After the team’s insipid scoreless draw at home against Atlas, coach Juan Reynoso insisted his squad is on the verge of rediscovering the dominant form it demonstrated throughout the Guardianes 2021. (He’s not the only one.)

With only three games remaining, “La Máquina” must win in Guadalajara or risk a difficult wild card route if it hopes to defend its crown. And with fixtures against América, León and the Pumas still on its schedule, Cruz Azul by no means has a playoff berth sewn up.

The Chivas remain in the playoff fight despite a wildly inconsistent season. A franchise that claims to be the most popular team in Liga MX can’t claim to be a Big Club if they treat a scoreless draw on the road to the last-place team as a moral victory.

The 0-0 tie in Tijuana Wednesday night was the third time “El Rebaño Sagrado” has been shut out since making a coaching change. Hardly the shake-up the front office expected. With the Tigres on the calendar after Cruz Azul, the Chivas are at risk of missing the playoffs if they don’t figure out how to score.

Toluca is the only team to have defeated América this season but the Diablos Rojos have gone 0-2-3 since that Matchday 9 victory. “Los Choriceros” still find themselves in the hunt for a Top 4 seed and a first-round bye in the Liga MX playoffs primarily because every club except América has been staggering down the stretch.

The Diablos will visit Santos without coach Hernán Cristante who was red-carded for tripping a Necaxa player along the sidelines during their Wednesday night match. After the Guerreros, Toluca faces León and a surging Puebla side so it would behoove them to get a result on the road Sunday.

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Santos, meanwhile, can’t get any traction although the 2-1 loss to América on Tuesday was only its second of the season. Seven draws, however, will not get you a favorable playoff seeding. Coach Guillermo Almada knows his Guerreros must make a move now and a win over visiting Toluca will make the final two weekends a bit less pressure-packed.