Top seeds poised to advance to Liga MX semifinals

Sebastián Cáceres (left) celebrates after scoring the tying goal in América's Liga MX quarterfinals match against Puebla on Wednesday. (Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images)
Sebastián Cáceres (left) celebrates after scoring the tying goal in América's Liga MX quarterfinals match against Puebla on Wednesday. (Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images) /
Liga MX quarters, 3
Pachuca striker Nicolás Ibáñez (left) has scored four times in two games against his former team this season. He will be the spearhead of the Tuzos attack in their Liga MX playoff match against Atlético de San Luis tonight. (Photo by Cesar Gomez/Jam Media/Getty Images) /

Oddsmakers have the Top Four seeds advancing to the Liga MX semifinals on home field ahead of the return matches in the four quarterfinals series this weekend.

On Saturday night, No. 4 América and No. 1 Pachuca host Puebla (fifth seed) and Atlético de San Luis (10th seed), respectively, with the two home favorites needing only a tie to advance.

Sunday night’s schedule has No. 3 Atlas hosting the sixth-seeded Chivas in the 283rd “Clásico Tapatío” (counting “friendlies”) and the No. 2 Tigres welcoming No. 8 Cruz Azul to “El Volcán.” The visiting teams must each win by at least 2 goals to pull off the upset.

Liga MX rules in the quarterfinal and semifinal rounds require the team with the lower seed to defeat the team with the higher seed. There is no away-goals rule, no overtime and no shootout. The club with the better regular season record advances in case of a tie after 180 minutes.

Spots in Liga MX Final Four at stake

Heading into the “Liguilla,” Pachuca and América were tabbed as best bet to hoist the Liga MX trophy at the end of the month. The Tuzos caught fire midway through the Clausura 2022 and stormed into first place with five weeks to spare, clinching the top seed on Matchday 15.

Pachuca didn’t just beat up on patsies either. Guillermo Almada’s men earned 38 points on the season and 30 of those came against the other 11 playoff teams.

In contrast, América was to be found at the bottom of the Liga MX standings after Matchday 9. One coaching change later and the Aguilas flew off on an eight-game unbeaten streak that included a six-game win streak sandwiched by a pair of ties.

But then the Liga MX playoffs started and Pachuca and América got their noses bloodied. The upstart Tuneros snatched a stoppage-time equalizer to gain much-needed momentum heading into the second leg at Estadio Hidalgo. That’s little comfort to Atlético de San Luis, however, as the Tuzos were a league-best 6-2-0 at home this season and André Jardine’s men must scratch out a win over the No. 1 seed.

In Puebla, the Camoteros got off fast and had América on its heels, playing defensively. It didn’t help that two starters for the visiting Aguilas (forward Federico Viñas and midfielder Richard Sánchez) were forced off with injuries before halftime. That left interim coach Fernando Ortiz with only one more opportunity to tweak his line-up.

After Fernando Aristeguieta’s nifty goal gave “La Franja” the lead in minute 55, the Aguilas drooped a bit. They found an updraft however and defender Sebastián Cáceres nodded home an equalizer with 10 minutes to spare.

So Nicolás Larcamón brings his Puebla side to Estadio Azteca for a must-win game. By the way, the Camoteros have not won in nearly 11 years (a 2-3 win on Oct. 31, 2011) … and Larcamón has yet to defeat América in four career meetings.

As for Sunday’s quarterfinals, we’ll get into more specifics in our next correspondence. Suffice it to say, the two favorites – No. 2 Tigres and defending Liga MX champs Atlas – have considerably more leeway than Saturday’s two hosts because they know they can lose by 1 goal and still advance.

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Don’t expect “prevent defenses” from the home sides (well … Atlas takes a rather defensive approach whatever the circumstances), because defeating their rivals will provide a great deal more pleasure.