Favorites earn road draws as ‘Liguilla’ gets under way

Juan Sanabria of Atlético de San Luis (right) celebrates with Facundo Waller after the former scored a late equalizer against Pachuca in a Liga MX quarterfinals match. (Photo by Leopoldo Smith/Getty Images)
Juan Sanabria of Atlético de San Luis (right) celebrates with Facundo Waller after the former scored a late equalizer against Pachuca in a Liga MX quarterfinals match. (Photo by Leopoldo Smith/Getty Images) /
Liga MX quarterfinals day 1
Puebla’s Fernando Aristeguieta (left) reacted quickly, knocking home his own rebound frmo close range to give the Camoteros the lead in their Liga MX quarterfinals series against América. the game ended 1-1. (Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images) /

No winners as Liga MX quarterfinals kick off

The underdogs came away with hard-fought draws in Wednesday’s Liga MX quarterfinals doubleheader but that still leaves the difficult task of winning on the road for Atlético de San Luis and Puebla.

Tenth-seeded Atlético de San Luis found a late equalizer to pull even with top-seeded Pachuca, keeping the Tuneros’ dreams of a second consecutive postseason upset alive. Juan Manuel Sanabria pounced on a weak clearance off a corner kick and volleyed a bounder just inside the right post for the 2-2 final.

Former San Luis star Nico Ibáñez had put Pachuca ahead twice with headers (4’ and 77’). The early lead was erased by a minute 25 penalty kick converted by Germán Berterame.

The Tuneros enjoyed the better offensive possessions, outshooting the Tuzos 14-5, but the visitors were more efficient, getting 4 of their shots on net. The No. 1 seeds played conservatively, preferring to remain well-organized with a priority on maintaining defensive shape.

Each team missed on a clear scoring chance. Just after the half-hour mark, San Luis forward Jhon Murillo clanged a header off the crossbar, and in minute 55, Pachcua’s Víctor Guzmán was denied by keeper Marcelo Barovero from close range.

The two clubs now travel to Pachuca for Saturday’s return leg and the Tuneros have their work cut out for them. Liga MX playoff rules for the quarterfinals and semifinals require the lower seed to outscore the higher seed to advance.

The “away-goals rule” is not in effect and there is no overtime or penalty shootout in those two rounds. A tie after the two matches favors the team with the better regular-season record. Oh, and Pachuca was undefeated at Estadio Hidalgo this season, posting a league best 6-2-0 record at home.

No. 4 América rescues tie at Estadio Cuauhtémoc

Defender Sebastián Cáceres powered home a header off a minute 80 free kick to help América salvage a draw in the first leg of their quarterfinals series against fifth-seeded Puebla.

In the first half, the Camoteros seemed as if they had shaken off their late-season slump, demonstrating better coordination between lines and attacking intent. Then, 10 minutes into the second half, Fernando Aristeguieta poked home his own rebound from the side of the net as Puebla took advantage of a poor clearance by Henry Martín.

“La Franja” sought to preserve their lead with careful possession but América’s pressure won the ball back leading to several dangerous counters. The tying goal came after an ill-advised foul on the right flank in Puebla’s defensive third and the Camoteros were unable to respond before the clock ran out.

Puebla now must travel to Estadio Azteca and search for a win, something they have not achieved at “El Coloso de Santa Úrsula” since Oct. 31, 2011. And Camoteros coach Nicolás Larcamón is winless in four games against the Aguilas.

América’s task has been made a bit more difficult after forward Federico Viñas (broken foot) and midfielder Richard Sánchez (hamstring) came off injured in the first half. Neither is likely to be available in the short term.

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The “Liguilla” continues with two more first-leg quarterfinals matches tonight. Eighth-seeded Cruz Azul hosts No. 3 Tigres in the opener while the “Clásico Tapatío” follows with No. 3 Atlas crossing town to face No. 6 Guadalajara.