Focus moves from Team Mexico to playoff pursuit

League-leading Pachuca has a nine-game unbeaten streak heading into a Matchday 12 road trip to Santos Laguna. (Photo by Jaime Lopez/Jam Media/Getty Images)
League-leading Pachuca has a nine-game unbeaten streak heading into a Matchday 12 road trip to Santos Laguna. (Photo by Jaime Lopez/Jam Media/Getty Images) /
Liga MX M 12
André-Pierre Gignac has been on a tear, finding the net in eight straight games, and he leads all Liga MX goal-scorers with 9. (Photo by ULISES RUIZ/AFP via Getty Images) /

Now that El Tri knows the path it must take at Qatar 2022, attention can return to Liga MX where league-leading Pachuca hosts Santos Laguna on Sunday to bring down the curtain on Matchday 12.

The weekend also features defending champs Atlas visiting Cruz Azul on Saturday followed by a resurgent América traveling to Necaxa. Sunday’s schedule opens with third-place Puebla visiting struggling Toluca and includes the second place Tigres entertaining hot-and-cold Tijuana.

After the two-week FIFA break, Liga MX clubs sit at the top of the home stretch with all 18 teams jockeying for position in a 12-team playoff … well, OK, FC Juárez and Mazatlán FC – though not mathematically eliminated – are not serious contenders.

The chase for wildcard spots will be a free-for-all, but the battle for the Top 4 seeds – and the all-important first-round bye – should be very entertaining. And that chase begins now.

Top Liga MX clashes this weekend

Cruz Azul has received some acclaim as the most talented roster in Liga MX, but the Cementeros have been inconsistent this season. Juan Reynoso’s men have conceded 14 goals and have lost three of six at Estadio Azteca. That simply won’t get it done.

Holders Atlas boasts the stingiest defense in Liga MX (8 goals allowed in 11 games) and their offense showed some spark heading into the FIFA break. The Zorros should have a slight advantage Saturday since several Cruz Azul players were busy on international duty, specifically Carlos Rodríguez and Uriel Antuna (the star of Mexico’s win over El Salvador on Wednesday).

The Cementeros can ill afford to drop points at home if they hope to remain in the hunt for a Top 4 seed. Atlas – currently in fourth place, two spots ahead of “La Máquina” – will strengthen its shot at a playoff bye with a road win.

América travels to Aguascalientes with a chance to continue its revival since Necaxa has lost four of five at home this season. The Aguilas climbed out of the Liga MX cellar thanks to a 3-0 rout of Toluca just before the break and they seem primed to continue their resurrection. The Rayos are in eighth place because of a fantastic road record, but if Jimmy Lozano can’t figure out how to win at Estadio Victoria, Necaxa will struggle to make the playoffs.

Puebla sat atop the Liga MX table for several weeks but seem to have hit a wall, so the FIFA break came at the right time. The Camoteros were the last team to suffer a loss (Matchday 10) then followed that up by squandering a 2-0 lead at home and settling for a draw against Santos Laguna last time out.

A visit to Toluca might be just what Nicolás Larcamón needs to get “La Franja” back on track. The Diablos have lost two consecutive games by 3-0 scorelines and coach Ignacio Ambriz is running out of time to salvage the season. Puebla needs a win Sunday because their next three games (hosting UNAM, at León and at league-leading Pachuca) will be challenging.

Who’ll be King of the Hill?

Sunday night could see a change at the top of the Liga MX standings as the second-place Tigres welcome Tijuana while top-of-the-table Pachuca has a tough road test at Santos Laguna.

The Tigres are 7-1-0 in their last eight while scoring at an impressive clip (21 goals during the streak). Tijuana has won two of three, but their loss was a 4-0 wipeout at Santos Laguna and the Xolos are 1-0-4 away from home.

Pachuca is 8-1-0 in its last nine with its lone loss coming on the road on Matchday 1. Playing at Santos is rarely an easy task and the Tuzos must be careful about looking past the Guerreros to Thursday’s showdown against the Tigres.

Pachuca coach Guillermo Almada would like nothing better than to still be in first place when the Tigres come to town but he likely will have to defeat his former team – Santos Laguna – to ensure that. The feisty Uruguayan manager will surely put on a show in his old stomping grounds, and it will be interesting to see what kind of reception he gets from the Estadio Corona crowd – and how he responds to the heckling sure to be directed at him.

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In other Matchday 12 contests, FC Juárez hosts UNAM on Saturday and Querétaro visits León on Sunday. The Liga MX weekend kicked off on Friday night with San Luis defeating Mazatlán FC 1-0 while the Monterrey at Guadalajara was pre-empted by a Coldplay concert (yes, you read that right). The Rayados and Chivas will play on April 13.