Liga MX leaders face reigning champs in ‘Junior Classic’

Defending champs Cruz Azul and league-leasing América meet Sunday in the 67th "Junior Classic." (Photo by Mauricio Salas/Jam Media/Getty Images)
Defending champs Cruz Azul and league-leasing América meet Sunday in the 67th "Junior Classic." (Photo by Mauricio Salas/Jam Media/Getty Images) /
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Liga MX Junior Classic AP21
Holders Cruz Azul are chasing a playoff spot while América sits atop the Liga MX table. This season’s “Junior Classic” promises to be explosive. (Photo by Mauricio Salas/Jam Media/Getty Images) /

League-leading América must shake off the disappointment of its loss in the ConcaChampions Final because defending Liga MX champs Cruz Azul are eager to deepen the Aguilas’ misery.

América coach Santiago Solari is under pressure despite already securing the No. 1 seed throughout the Liga MX playoffs because Aguilas fans and the front office demand hardware. So far, the Argentine manager is 0-2, and failure to hoist the trophy this season could earn him a pink slip.

Holders Cruz Azul, meanwhile, are still scrambling to secure a playoff berth. A loss at home to their bitter rivals on Sunday could see the Cementeros chasing a wildcard spot in their season finale against the suddenly red-hot Pumas.

The Pumas’ three-game win streak has them dreaming of the post-season after slumming in the Liga MX basement most of the season, and a win against Pachuca tonight could set up a win-or-go-home scenario next Sunday at the CU for both UNAM and Cruz Azul.

Liga MX champs need win desperately

Cruz Azul has been adrift in the middle of the table most of the Apertura 2021, battling injuries and fatigue most of the campaign. Captain Jesús Corona broke a finger in training camp and missed the first eight games and though back-up goalies Sebastián Jurado and Andrés Gudiño played well, neither made the game-saving block that had become Corona’s trademark.

The result is a 4-8-2 record, and if just two of those eight ties had been victories, the Cementeros would be in third place. But top scorer Jonathan Rodríguez has too often been off the mark and midfield stalwarts Orbelín Pineda and Luis Romo have missed time due to national team obligations.

“La Máquina” has been anything but, too often sputtering on offense and occasionally looking confused at the back as coach Juan Reynoso’s rotation scheme has not been effective as it was last season.

With three games remaining (their Matchday 11 contest against León will be made up on Nov. 3), the Cementeros do not have to scoreboard-watch. Simply taking care of business could still be enough to snare a Top 4 seed and a first-round bye in the Liga MX playoffs.

América comes into the “Clásico Joven” licking its wounds, both emotional and physical. Midfielder Richard Sánchez left the CCL Final with a leg injury and is ruled out for Sunday’s contest. Pedro Aquino missed out on the Final with a thigh strain might be available for the “Junior Classic.” If “The Rock” misses out, the Cementeros should have a distinct advantage in the middle of the field.

The absence of winger Mauro Lainez is also a problem for Solari (he has had to rely on converted left back Salvador Reyes with mixed results) as are fitness issues among his back-liners. Bruno Valdez and Emanuel Aguilera have missed time this season though Valdez was back on the pitch (though less than 100 percent) against Monterrey on Thursday night.