Top 4 seeds set to battle it out in semifinals

Julián Quiñones and Atlas played to a 1-1 draw against the Tigres on Matchday 17. The two meet again with a spot in the Liga MX Finals at stake. (Photo by Refugio Ruiz/Getty Images)
Julián Quiñones and Atlas played to a 1-1 draw against the Tigres on Matchday 17. The two meet again with a spot in the Liga MX Finals at stake. (Photo by Refugio Ruiz/Getty Images) /
Liga MX semifinals top 4
Diego Valdés (center) and America lost 3-1 to visiting Pachuca on Matchday 6. They’ll meet again at Estadio Azteca in the Liga MX semifinals on Thursday. (Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images) /

The Liga MX semifinals are set with No. 2 Tigres and No. 3 Atlas tangling on Wednesday and Saturday and No. 1 Pachuca taking on No. 4 América with games set for Thursday and Sunday.

Last time the Top 4 seeds all made the Final Four was the Apertura 2017 campaign. That was eight seasons ago and back then we watched No. 1 Monterey defeat No. 4 Morelia while the No. 3 Tigres got past No. 2 América.

The Tigres emerged victorious in the subsequent Final, defeating the Rayados, their crosstown rivals in a thrilling “Clásico Regiomontano.”

There will be no Liga MX “clásicos” in the rest of these playoffs, though we were treated to a “Clásico Tapatío” in the quarterfinals (defending Liga MX champs Atlas emerged from that Guadalajara derby series to claim its spot in the semifinals).

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The semifinals kick off at Estadio Jalisco on Wednesday night with the visiting Tigres hoping to pay back the Zorros for eliminating them in a Clausura 2021 wildcard match.

Back on May 8, 2021, seventh-seeded Atlas defeated the No. 10 seed Tigres thanks to a goal by Julio Furch in minute 79. “Los Rojinegros” were then eliminated by No. 3 Puebla in the quarterfinals, but that experience served as a stepping-stone toward the championship Atlas would win the following season. Before that brief Clausura 2021 appearance, the Zorros had not been part of a Liga MX postseason since December 2017.

Last season, Atlas was the No. 2 seed while the Tigres – the No. 4 seed – made it to the semifinals stage. In Miguel Herrera’s first term in charge, “los felinos” slipped past Santos Laguna before coming up short against León in the Final Four. They will want to get one step further this time around.

The Pachuca-América semifinal opens at Estadio Azteca on Thursday night. The last time Pachuca was in the Liga MX playoffs as the No. 1 seed was back in the Clausura 2009, a season that saw the Tuzos finish second to UNAM, losing in overtime to the Pumas.

The last time the Tuzos made it to the Final Four was during the Guardianes 2021 season where they lost to eventual Liga MX champions Cruz Azul by the barest minimum, 1-0.

For its part, América has reached the semifinals for the first time since the Apertura 2019, a season in which they lost in the Liga MX Final to Monterrey in a penalty shootout.

These two teams have met in the Liga MX playoffs six times in the past 21 years, most recently two seasons ago when No. 8 Pachuca stunned No. 2 América in the quarterfinals via the no-longer-used away-goals rule.

Pressure was piled on América coach Santiago Solari when the Aguilas again lost at the quarterfinals stage last season and in embarrassing fashion (as the No. 1 seed, they were knocked out by No. 11 UNAM). When they stumbled out of the gate this season, and found themselves in the Liga MX basement after Matchday 9, the former Real Madrid manager got the axe.

Interim coach Fernando Ortiz – plucked from América’s youth academy system where he was in charge of the Aguilas’ Under-20 team which, incidentally, is in the semifinals of the Liga MX U-20 tournament – has his team on a 10-game unbeaten streak (7-3-0).

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He’ll be matching wits against Guillermo Almada who is in his first season with Pachuca after holding the reins at Santos Laguna the previous five season. Almada will be hoping to make it to his second Liga MX Final after coming up short against Cruz Azul in the Guardianes 2021 campaign.