Lukewarm Liga MX playoff races head into home stretch

Cruz Azul players trudge off the field after the defending Liga MX champs allowed Guadalajara to find a last-second equalizer. (Photo by Refugio Ruiz/Getty Images)
Cruz Azul players trudge off the field after the defending Liga MX champs allowed Guadalajara to find a last-second equalizer. (Photo by Refugio Ruiz/Getty Images) /
Liga MX M15 lukewarm
Henry Martín thumps home what would be the only goal in América’s 1-0 win over the Tigres. The Aguilas hold a comfortable lead atop the Liga MX table (Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images) /

Another Liga MX matchday, another wave of upsets and desultory results. Until Sunday night, that is.

Monterrey’s league-high payroll came up short again, this time losing to 16th-place Necaxa … at home! In Guadalajara, the Chivas and Cruz Azul trotted around Estadio Akron aimlessly, producing an insipid 1-1 draw, while in Puebla, the Camoteros’ late-season playoff push hit a road bump as they conceded an own goal in a 1-0 loss to visiting León.

Then came Sunday night and Matchday 15 came alive. Atlas had scored just 6 goals in its previous six Liga MX games, but the Zorros found the net six times in San Luis, trouncing the Tuneros 6-2. It was the first time any Liga MX team had scored more than 4 goals all season and it was the first time any game had seen more than 3 goals combined since Matchday 12.

Also Sunday, UNAM continued its surprising resurgence, winning for the third time in a row, knocking three past Tijuana goalie Jonathan Orozco in a 3-1 victory. In Coahuila, Santos Laguna and Toluca played to an entertaining 2-2 tie.

Liga MX postseason picture still muddled

Except for league-leading América and cellar-dwelling Tijuana, every Liga MX team will be playing for their postseason lives over the next two matchdays. The Aguilas clinched the No. 1 seed – and a first-round bye – thanks to a typically efficient 1-0 win over the Tigres on Saturday night that also featured five splendid saves from Memo Ochoa.

As for Tijuana, the Xolos were eliminated from contention after yet another dismal performance that saw one of the league’s worst offenses put three behind the embattled Jonathan Orozco.

In second place after 15 games, Atlas is the only other team to mathematically clinch a playoff spot. A win next week against Tijuana would virtually sew up a first-round bye for the Zorros.

Monterrey – despite one of the highest payrolls in Liga MX – continues its free-fall, losing for the fourth consecutive time, the last an embarrassing 1-0 home loss to Necaxa. The slump has seen the Rayados tumble from second place to seventh, now 2 points out of a Top 4 seed. Coach Javier Aguirre was resting his top stars against Necaxa ahead of Thursday’s Concacaf Champions League Final against América, but his gambit made his team’s league trophy chase that much harder.

Holders Cruz Azul continues to do just enough to make fans and pundits think the team is just about to recapture last season’s rampaging style, only to snatch a draw from the jaws of victory. The Cementeros helped the Chivas erase a 1-0 deficit in minute 90+4 by declining to mark Gilberto Sepúlveda on a last-minute corner kick, allowing the Guadalajara defender a free header from point-blank range. An unforgivable defensive breakdown by “La Máquina Azul.” The result was the eighth tie in 14 matches for Juan Reynoso’s men. That’s no way to defend one’s crown.

Down near the bottom of the table, there is a four-way tie that should produce some stretch-run drama for Liga MX fans. Santos Laguna (a 2-2 home draw vs Toluca), Atlético de San Luis (6-2 victims to visiting Atlas), Necaxa (upset victors at Monterrey) and UNAM (on a three-game win streak after recording only one win through 11 games) have 17 points.

Santos – last season’s losing finalist – is presently in 11th place (by virtue of a +3 goal differential) and they play San Luis on the final weekend of the Apertura 2021.

Lurking just below that cluster sit Pachuca (16 points), FC Juárez (16) and Querétaro (15), all of whom are in whispering distance of a wildcard spot.

Four games next weekend will go a long way in determining the wild-card probabilities: sixth-place Mazatlán (20 points) at Necaxa; Puebla at FC Juárez; Santos at Querétaro; and UNAM at Pachuca.

Next. End of the line for Solskjaer at United?. dark

Later this week, we’ll look at three matches that could decide who claims a first-round playoff bye (Chivas at Tigres, León at Toluca and América at Cruz Azul). Until then …