César Montes injury overshadows Liga MX playoff race

Liga MX M17 Leon

León’s Víctor Dávila (right) tormented his former team, scoring three times to put Necaxa on the verge of missing out on the Liga MX playoffs. (Photo by Cesar Gomez/Jam Media/Getty Images)

León and the Tigres clinched first-round playoff byes and Monterrey relegated itself to a wildcard game on the road, but the biggest news from Saturday’s Liga MX quadruple-header was an injury to Mexico central defender César Montes.

Just 4 minutes into the América-Monterrey match, Montes was carted off the Estadio Azteca turf after América’s Federico Viñas clattered into his right leg, ringing alarm bells at El Tri headquarters.

The nature of the injury is not clear, but Rayados trainers tended to the defender’s knee before he retired to the locker room. El Tri has tricky World Cup qualifiers on the road (at USA on Nov. 12 and at Canada on Nov. 16) and Montes was expected to start in the middle of Mexico’s back line.

Returning to Liga MX particulars, Pachuca’s late-night loss to last-place Tijuana allowed Necaxa to cling to the 12th and final playoff spot, pending Sunday’s two matches.

Liga MX postseason tournament taking shape

A Víctor Dávila hat trick against his former team led León to an easy 3-0 win over visiting Necaxa, lifting the Esmeraldas into third place with 29 points. “La Fiera” had only scored four times in its previous eight Liga MX contests (and two of them were own goals), so “an offensive explosion” heading into the postseason is a pleasant turn of events for coach Ariel Holan.

As the No. 3 seed, the Guardianes 2021 champs will be idle until the quarterfinals kick off on Nov. 24-25. That will allow their international stars a week to recover from upcoming World Cup qualifiers.

Up north, Tigres fans honored former coach “Tuca” Ferretti with a standing ovation as he walked to the visitors bench at Estadio Universitario. Then his old pupils went about their business, spanking Ferretti’s Bravos 3-0 to secure the No. 4 seed. They too will get an extended break until the Liguilla starts.

Nico López contributed a brace in the Tigres’ victory, climbing into a tie with Liga MX scoring leader Germán Berterame with 9 goals. Berterame and Atlético de San Luis play Sunday at Santos Laguna where a win will allow the Tuneros to swipe the final wildcard spot from Necaxa.

No revenge for the Aguilas

Monterrey and América squared off again just nine days after the Rayados blanked the Aguilas 1-0 to claim the Concacaf Champions League title. This time, the game was played in Mexico City but top-ranked América was still unable to score.

The 0-0 result did not help Monterrey as the Rayados had already backed into a playoff spot when Necaxa lost in León. Javier Aguirre’s squad remained in ninth place, finishing the regular season on a six-game winless streak (outscored 2-7 while going 0-2-4). That means as the No. 9 seed, Monterey will travel to meet the No. 8 seed (either Cruz Azul, Santos or Puebla) in the single-elimination wildcard round.

América didn’t complete its Liga MX calendar with fanfare either (a loss to reigning Liga MX champs Cruz Azul preceded Saturday’s scoreless draw), but the Aguilas had clinched the No. 1 seed three weeks ago. Coach Santiago Solari rested most of his regulars, even giving 19-year-old Emilio Lara a debut (and the kid looked quite good in his maiden 90 minutes in Liga MX).

Up at the border, Pachuca players scored four goals but, unfortunately, two of those went into their own net. The 3-2 setback ended a disappointing season for the Tuzos while allowing the Xolos to close out their disastrous campaign with a win.

Sunday’s schedule finds Cruz Azul visiting crosstown rivals UNAM while Santos Laguna hosts San Luis. Cruz Azul and Santos will be trying to improve their playoff seeding (the eighth-place Cementeros can climb to fifth, while seventh-place Santos aspires to the same spot) though both are guaranteed of hosting their respective wildcard matches.

If both UNAM and San Luis are victorious, Mazatlán FC and Necaxa will miss out on the playoffs. Draws will not be enough to alter the current wildcard bracket.

The 15th-place Pumas could rise to the 11th seed by beating Cruz Azul as long as San Luis does not win at Santos (in that case, UNAM would be 12th).

If the Tuneros upset the Guerreros, they could climb as high as No. 10 (but would have to make up a 4-goal deficit to send Guadalajara from 10th to 11th), otherwise an upset at Estadio Corona in Torreón would boost Atlético de San Luis into 11th place.