Goals at a premium in first two Liga MX quarterfinals

Higor Meritao thought he'd given the Pumas a lead but he was offside. The "Clásico Capitalino" ended in a scoreless draw. (Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images)
Higor Meritao thought he'd given the Pumas a lead but he was offside. The "Clásico Capitalino" ended in a scoreless draw. (Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images) /
Liga MX Liguila first leg
Atlas defender Jesús Angulo tackles the ball away from Rayados midfielder Maxi Meza in Wednesday’s Liga MX quarterfinal match in Monterrey. (Photo by Azael Rodriguez/Getty Images) /

The Liguilla got off to a rousing start Wednesday night. Well, except for the no goals thing.

Top-seeded América came out flat but escaped the CU cauldron with a scoreless draw while No. 2 Atlas flashed its disciplined defense to come away from Monterrey’s Estadio BBVA Bancomer with a favorable 0-0 result.

The Liga MX quarterfinals continue Thursday with two more first-leg matches: No. 3 León travels to No. 7 Puebla while No. 5 Santos Laguna hosts No. 4 Tigres.

The second-leg matches are set for Saturday and Sunday.

Capital derby serves up goose eggs

In Mexico City, the Pumas had the better of the “Clásico Capitalino” but could not find a way past “Memo” Ochoa. UNAM came out with the same energy it displayed against Toluca in its Wildcard triumph while América showed the rust of a team that had not played in 18 days.

The Pumas were on the front foot throughout the match (55% possession) and outshot América 14 to 4, forcing five saves from Ochoa. Still, the Aguilas just missed going in front in minute 77 when a Richard Sánchez shot brushed the outside of the far post. Sub Henry Martín had supplied the midfielder with a superb cutback pass after circling Pumas left back Efráin Velarde on the right side.

Six minutes later, the Pumas saw a goal annulled for offside, but it was a wonderful play. Higor Meritao was a half-step behind the defense when Favio Álvarez flicked a header over two converging América defenders, sending the Brazilian in alone on the back side. Meritao left-footed a chip shot past the onrushing Ochoa, but it was for naught.

In added time, Álvarez pounced on a loose ball at the top of the box after it squirted free from a trio of players but sent his quick flick just wide of the right post.

The two rivals will settle their quarterfinal series in Estadio Azteca on Saturday night.

Atlas holds Liga MX heavyweights scoreless

The stingy Zorros harried and hectored favored Monterrey, demonstrating tactical discipline and holding the talented Rayados to a single shot on goal.

Perhaps the scoreless draws ought not be such a big surprise as both visiting teams – the No. 1 seeded América and the No. 2 Zorros – boasted the top defenses in Liga MX this season (each allowing just 10 goals in 17 games).

Atlas put on a poised performance, patiently managing possessions and slowing down Monterrey’s high-priced attack, keeping the Rayados off-balance throughout the first half. The hosts did not manage a single shot on goal through the first 45 minutes.

It was more of the same into the second half – a Rogelio Funes Mori tap-in was ruled out for offside in minute 60. The Rayados enjoyed 5-6 minutes of intense pressure after Vincent Janssen came on in minute 71, but the Atlas back line and goalie Camilo Vargas maintained the clean sheet.

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This Liga MX quarterfinals series continues in Estadio Jalisco on Saturday night where the Zorros went 4-2-3 this season. One of those four wins came back on Sept. 11 (Matchday 8) when Atlas defeated Monterrey 2-1.