Liga MX: Spills and thrills in Clausura 2022 playoff race

Despite a late-game scrap that left the Chivas with 10 men, Cruz Azul was unable to find any inspiration and came away 1-0 losers. (Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images)
Despite a late-game scrap that left the Chivas with 10 men, Cruz Azul was unable to find any inspiration and came away 1-0 losers. (Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images) /
Liga MX M14 wrap
León is stuck in the middle of the Liga MX table after another stuttering performance at home, this time losing 1-0 to Puebla. (Photo by Leopoldo Smith/Getty Images) /

With three games remaining in the Clausura 2022, presumed title contenders León and Cruz Azul are seeing title hopes dim while América continues its resurgence.

The Pumas again demonstrated their scrappiness, the Chivas responded to their coach’s firing with a victory while holders Atlas showed it is still not in championship form.

At the top of the Liga MX table, the Tigres and Pachuca carry on with their game of leapfrog, while Puebla solidified its hold on third place by ending its four-game winless streak.

All in all, Matchday 14 provided a couple huge surprises and enhanced a few trends that had been apparent, but there’s little time to contemplate them as the Liga MX schedules features a make-or-break Midweek Matchday for quite a few clubs.

From contenders to pretenders?

León and Cruz Azul were expected to make deep playoff runs but have both hit the skids heading down the home stretch.

The Esmeraldas saw their home winless streak increase to four games with a listless performance on Saturday at the Camp Nou where Puebla snared a 1-0 victory. “La Fiera” went down to 10 men just 5 minutes in and found themselves down 1-0 before the half.

León’s season-long offensive struggles have been a surprise (12 goals in 14 games) and they continued against the Camoteros as Angel Mena wasted several good looks at goal. Though they are in 9th place, the Esmeraldas are just 3 points better than 16th place Querétaro. A playoff berth is by no means guaranteed.

Most complete roster in Liga MX?

Cruz Azul was being described as the team with the deepest bench in Liga MX but they are playing with little sense of purpose. They still have time to correct their problems – and there are many – and upcoming games at Querétaro and against Atlético de San Luis could be the recipe for recovery.

The Cementeros have lost four of their eight games at Estadio Azteca and crashed out of the Concacaf Champions League after scoring just once in 180 minutes against the Pumas.

Since defeating the Pumas in a Liga MX match on March 12, “La Máquina” has not scored more than one goal, while suffering three shutouts and stumbling to a 1-3-3 record in all competitions.

The loss of midfield dynamo Carlos Rodríguez hurts but coach Juan Reynoso’s constant line-up juggling has not produced the expected results. Too often, Cementeros players appear confused and out of position, pointing to either a lack of tactical clarity or mismatched line-ups (or both).

Cruz Azul closes out the Clausura 2022 against red-hot América and a loss to their bitter rivals would not be a good way to enter the Liga MX playoffs.

Aguilas continue soaring, Pumas scratching and clawing

Since firing Santiago Solari on March 2, América has only lost once (4-1-1) and have ridden a four-game win streak out of the cellar and into 8th place. After spending three weeks in the Liga MX basement, the Aguilas are now flying high.

Interim coach Fernando Ortiz has “los AzulCremas” playing with energy and emotion such that he could actually earn the permanent job if “the winningest Liga MX team of all time” makes a deep playoff run.

The Aguilas will be tested severely down the stretch – vs. León, at the first-place Tigres (and former coach Miguel Herrera), vs Cruz Azul. Amazingly, América (19 points) even has a shot at a Top 4 finish and a first-round playoff bye.

Another Mexico City club, the Pumas, continue to beleaguer the pundits. Despite having a short bench and a modest payroll, UNAM is the only Liga MX club chasing two trophies. Naysayers insisted “los Felinos” did not have the roster to participate in two competitions, but here they are.

The Pumas will hold up Liga MX honor in the Concacaf Champions League final against the Seattle Sounders beginning next week and Andrés Lillini’s men are in 7th place in the Liga MX standings after stunning Monterrey at the CU on Sunday. UNAM scored twice late while a man down to upset the favored Rayados.

And elsewhere …

Guadalajara fired Marcelo Michel Leaño after a 3-1 home loss to Monterrey last week then responded with a gutsy performance against Cruz Azul, defeating the Cementeros 1-0 despite playing the final 20 minutes with 10 men. The win placed the Chivas back in the hunt for a wildcard spot.

Across town, defending Liga MX champs Atlas continued to experience ups-and-downs, falling at home to lowly Mazatlán FC. A win or a draw would have put the Zorros in the driver’s seat for a Top 4 spot and a first-round bye in the Liga MX playoffs. Instead, coach Diego Cocca will have to figure out a way to fire up his team for the gauntlet that awaits.

Pedri to miss rest of season. dark. Next

Atlas visits fourth-place Monterrey, then travels to eighth-place Toluca before hosting the league-leading Tigres in the season finale. If they stumble, the Zorros could conceivably be forced to go on the road for their wildcard match.