Liga MX: No. 1 América, No. 2 Atlas take to road in Liguilla

Alvaro Fidalgo (left) will be called on to quarterback the América attack against an improving Pumas defense. (Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images)
Alvaro Fidalgo (left) will be called on to quarterback the América attack against an improving Pumas defense. (Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images) /
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Mauro Lainez capped off a solo counter-attack with this shot to give América a 2-0 win over the Pumas back on Liga MX Matchday 12. (Photo by Mauricio Salas/Jam Media/Getty Images) /

The more things change in Liga MX, the more they stay the same … well, virtually the same.

Five teams are participating in the Liga MX quarterfinals again this season after reaching the “Liguilla” last season. But they aren’t necessarily the teams you might thing. For instance, holders Cruz Azul saw their reign atop Liga MX end Sunday in wildcard loss to Monterrey.

The repeat quarterfinalists are No. 1 América, No. 2 Atlas, No. 5 Santos Laguna, No. 7 Puebla and No. 9 Monterrey. The newbies are No. 3 León, No. 4 Tigres (both of whom were eliminated in the wildcard round last season), and No. 11 UNAM.

So while we know there will be a new Liga MX champion crowned next month, we’ll get to watch 14 matches before a new king hoists the Apertura 2021 trophy. And just for fun, check out how we had the teams listed in the final Power Rankings here.

Liga MX quarterfinals kick off at the CU

No. 1 América at No. 11 Pumas

The quarterfinals open tonight with some “Clásico Capitalino” fireworks. The underdog Pumas are on the rise, streaking down the stretch to claim the final Liga MX playoff spot while the top-seeded Aguilas have stagnated since clinching first place with four games to spare.

Since losing to América on Matchday 12 (Oct. 3), UNAM have gone 5-1-1. This includes the 2-1 win at Toluca in Sunday’s wildcard match and a 3-0 second-half showing against Cruz Azul to overturn a 3-1 halftime deficit in the season finale, a miracle finish that secured the wildcard berth.

After that Matchday 12 loss to the Aguilas, the Pumas found themselves in 17th place in the Liga MX table, and pundits speculated what drastic changes the club would make during the winter break.

Across town, América has had three weeks to recover from a raft of injuries, but lost a key player during the FIFA break.

The Aguilas fluttered home with a series of unimpressive performances, falling in the Concacaf Champions League final to Monterrey on Oct. 28, then losing at Cruz Azul three days later, only their second Liga MX loss of the Apertura 2021.

Among the walking wounded down the stretch were three central defenders (Bruno Valdez, Ema Aguilera and Sebastián Cáceres), plus midfield ballhawks Richard Sánchez and Pedro Aquino, as well as winger Mauro Lainez. All are expected back except for Aquino who reinjured his thigh while on duty with Peru.