Final Liga MX matchday promises plenty of drama

Julio Furch and Atlas clinched a first-round bye in the Liga MX playoffs by beating Querétaro 2-0 on Thursday. Here, Furch celebrates his 73rd-minute goal. (Photo by ULISES RUIZ/AFP via Getty Images)
Julio Furch and Atlas clinched a first-round bye in the Liga MX playoffs by beating Querétaro 2-0 on Thursday. Here, Furch celebrates his 73rd-minute goal. (Photo by ULISES RUIZ/AFP via Getty Images) /
Liga MX final weekend
The Chivas are down to their last chance, needing a win at Mazatlán to ensure a spot in the Liga MX playoffs. (Photo by Francisco Vega/Getty Images) /

Julio Furch scored in minute 73 to help Atlas clinch a first-round playoff bye with a 2-0 win over Querétaro on Thursday night, confirming the front office’s belief that the big Argentine could help the Zorros become a Liga MX title contender.

Atlas traded for the burly striker in December as the front office sought to rebuild a team battling relegation concerns only to see him break his ankle days before the Guardianes 2021 season began. Still, the other pieces they acquired scrapped and fought their way to a middle-of-the-table position and a wildcard berth, with Furch returning a few weeks before the playoffs.

The Zorros reached the quarterfinals with Furch coming off the bench in 15-minute stints, then added forward Julián Quiñones over the summer. The partnership has paid dividends with the pair combining for 11 of the club’s 21 goals this season and causing opposing defenses headaches.

Atlas will now watch to see if they finish as the No. 2 seed (León would have to beat Necaxa by 8 goals to knock the Zorros down to No. 3), then wait out the FIFA break and the wildcard round (Nov. 20-21) to find out who they’ll face in the quarterfinals.

Liga MX playoff spots up for grabs

Santos Laguna qualified for the postseason with a convincing 3-0 win at UNAM on Thursday night, becoming the seventh club to earn an invitation to the Liga MX playoff dance. That leaves eight teams battling over the five spots remaining.

Friday’s double-header features three of playoff hopefuls with the nightcap presenting a win-or-go-home scenario for Mazatlán FC and Guadalajara.

Already-qualified Toluca visits Puebla to kick off the action with the host Camoteros needing just a tie to secure a spot in the playoffs. The Diablos won’t be out for a stroll because they have something to play for, too.

A Toluca victory combined with a loss by León and or the Tigres would allow “Los Choriceros” to claim a Top 4 seed and a first-round bye. A loss could knock the fifth-place Diablos as low as ninth, forcing them to go on the road in the wildcard round.

A tie is probably enough for Puebla to reach the Liga MX tournament, since Atlético de San Luis would have to defeat Santos Laguna by 3 goals, an unlikely outcome.

Friday’s second game offers even more drama.

The loser in the Chivas at Mazatlán FC game could see their season end short of the Liga MX playoffs, while a draw could see both qualify for a wildcard berth, though they’d both have to sweat out the results of three other matches.

The 12th-place Chivas (19 points) have been a telenovela since the summer. The club did a bit of addition-by-subtraction before the Apertura 2021 started, loaning disgruntled striker J.J. Macías to La Liga club Getafe, but failed to add any significant depth. That would prove difficult to overcome.

Guadalajara opened the season short five players (four in Tokyo with Mexico’s Olympic team and a fifth on duty with El Tri at the Concacaf Gold Cup). Lack of discipline also hurt the club as player suspensions were seemingly a weekly occurrence.

Coach Víctor Manuel Vucetich was sacked (after a win!) in mid-September and an interim coach was hired without the input of GM Ricardo Peláez. Marcelo Michel Leaño – a close friend of owner Amaury Vergara and the club’s academy director –has just one win in seven games since taking the reins.

Mazatlán FC (20 points) had only one loss through Matchday 5, but has gone 3-3-5 since. The Cañoneros are trying to qualify for the Liga MX playoffs for the first time in their brief history (the team moved to the Sinaloa port city from Morelia in summer 2020).

“The Purple Gang” has never beaten the Chivas (losing 2-1 on Sept. 26, 2020, and playing to a 1-1 draw in Mazatlán on March 6, 2021), so fans at The Kraken will be in full voice to witness two “firsts.”

Mazatlán’s inconsistent defense will be key to the match as Guadalajara is among the worst offensive teams in Liga MX. Chivas star forwards Alexis Vega and Uriel Antuna have combined for 0 goals. That’s right. Not a single goal. Vega has battled injuries all season, while Antuna has been guilty of violating some team policies.

The latest report from Guadalajara (those not related to the front office; for that, see below) is that Vega is expected back in the starting line-up after missing the past four games. Mazatlán, meanwhile, is coming off a disappointing loss to Necaxa, but coach Beñat San José has his entire roster on hand.

Chivas stand pat

Critics and fans alike let loose a howl of disapproval after Guadalajara announced it was retaining GM Ricardo Peláez and removing the “interim” title from coach Marcelo Michel Leaño.

Peláez took over in January 2020 promising to restore “El Rebaño Sagrado” to its proper place atop Liga MX, immediately splashing cash around to assemble a roster of young stars. Unfortunately, the callow roster has not fit together and has been a constant aggravation, first bucking the demanding tactical approach of coach Vucetich and violating team rules with persistent nonchalance.

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Despite guarantees of new titles, Guadalajara has not added a single piece of hardware since Peláez took over nearly four seasons ago. A loss in Mazatlán tonight, or a draw and a few adverse results elsewhere, could see the Chivas miss out on the Liga MX playoffs yet owner Amaury Vergara has committed the club to another season with the same management.