Clausura 2022 playoff race, Part 2: Two final spots

León started the season as a title contender but are on the verge of missing the Liga MX for the first time since 2018. (Photo by Jos Alvarez/Jam Media/Getty Images)
León started the season as a title contender but are on the verge of missing the Liga MX for the first time since 2018. (Photo by Jos Alvarez/Jam Media/Getty Images) /
Liga MX playoffs, part 2
Pumas defender Nicolas Freire reacts Guadalajara scored against his team. The Pumas need a win in their Liga MX finale to guarantee a spot in the playoffs. (Photo by Alfredo Moya/Jam Media/Getty Images) /

The Clausura 2022 is down to the final weekend with 10 teams having secured playoff spots.

Six teams are battling for the final two Liga MX wildcard berths with León and the Pumas controlling their own destiny – a win and they’re in. However, the former is in a prolonged slump that led to the departure of coach Ariel Holan and the latter is otherwise occupied with the Concacaf Champions League final.

The disarray in León (the Esmeraldas are carrying a five-game winless streak into the season finale) and the fatigue enveloping the Pumas keeps Toluca, Santos Laguna, Mazatlán FC and Tijuana alive heading into Matchday 17.

The only contest involving two of these six teams takes place in the Camp Nou where León will host Toluca.

From Liga MX favorite to also-ran status

A León victory would secure a wildcard spot for “La Fiera,” a club once viewed as a title contender. The Esmeraldas (20 points) have qualified for the Liga MX playoffs five seasons on the trot, losing in the finals last season.

Coach Holan basically wrecked “The Green Machine” and completely lost the locker room, sidelining stars (like Luis Montes) who were instrumental in establishing the club’s reputation as a dominant offensive team. The Esmeraldas have scored just 13 goals in 16 games thus far.

Toluca – led by Ignacio Ambriz, the coach who built up the León juggernaut before leaving for an opportunity in Spain last summer – must win and hope neither the Pumas nor Mazatlán FC claim a victory this weekend.

The Diablos Rojos (18 points) are weighted down by a league-worst defense (32 goals allowed, 8 more than any other club) and a –15 goal differential.

When chasing two trophies is almost too much to ask

The Pumas (19 points) entered the Clausura 2022 short-handed after the cash-strapped club sold off midfield linchpin Erik Lira. Not much was expected of “Los Felinos” despite their surprising run to the semifinals last season, especially as they were also participating in the Concacaf Champions League.

But Andrés Lillini has been masterful again and his Pumas have again demonstrated the grit and determination that has seemingly become a permanent UNAM attribute. The “Universitarios” overcame a 3-0 deficit in the CCL quarterfinals then stunned heavily favored Cruz Azul in the semifinals.

Since UNAM basically only goes 14 deep, the club has shown fatigue as the Liga MX hit the home stretch. With such a thin roster, playing seven games in April has taken its toll and the Pumas and the club has lost two straight in league play.

“Los Auriazules” host the Seattle Sounders on Wednesday in the first leg of the CCL Finals before their Liga MX season finale against first-place Pachuca. That’s a tough ask, especially since the return match against the Sounders is in Seattle a week from Wednesday, and the club is desperate to make a good impression in its first-ever CCL Final.

As such, Mazatlán FC (18 points), Santos Laguna (17 points) and Tijuana (17 points) are counting on a Pachuca victory at the CU.

With that outcome, a win for Mazatlán at home against third-place Puebla would earn them a first-ever Liga MX playoff appearance. By beating Puebla, the Cañoneros could also claim a wildcard spot with a León loss or a Pumas draw.

Santos Laguna must go on the road and defeat 10th-place Atlético de San Luis and hope for a León loss or a Pumas loss, plus a Mazatlán or tie. If the Pumas manage a tie against Pachuca, Santos must win by at least three goals

Next. UEFA Champions League semifinals preview. dark

As for Tijuana, their chances of reaching the Liga MX postseason are far-fetched. The Xolos must win and hope that the Pumas lose AND neither Mazatlán, Toluca nor Santos Laguna win. Tijuana’s –10 goal differential basically means the Xolos must finish with more points than those clubs or they will miss out on the tiebreaker.