Atlas to host Liga MX Final opener Thursday
Top-seeded Pachuca will not feel uncomfortable opening the Finals away from home as the Tuzos were the best road team in Liga MX this season in addition to finishing the season as the No. 1 team in the Playing for 90 Power Rankings.
Guillermo Almada’s men won a league-high six road games, posting a 6-0-3 record in away games while outscoring their hosts 16-10.
The Tuzos might even feel right at home Thursday night at Estadio Jalisco where they have won three straight over the third-seeded Zorros. In fact, Pachuca’s last loss in Guadalajara against “los rojinegros” came more than five years ago (April 22, 2017: Matías Alustiza scored the lone goal for Atlas in a 1-0 win).
The Zorros struggled at home this season, winning just three of eight games at Estadio Jalisco and Pachuca handed Atlas one of its two home losses back on Matchday 8. Substitute Roberto de la Rosa scored the winner at the 86-minute mark against a 10-man Zorros defense (winger Jairo Torres was red-carded just before halftime).
The two finalists feature the stingiest defenses in Liga MX, both conceding just 15 goals in 17 regular season matches.
Neither has been as air-tight in the playoffs, however: Pachuca conceded 4 goals in its quarterfinal series against No. 10 Atlético de San Luis; Atlas nearly coughed up a 3-goal advantage in the semifinals after allowing the Tigres to score four times in the return leg.
Goalies Óscar Ustari (Pachuca) and Camilo Vargas (Atlas) are among the best in the league. Ustari turned in 7 clean sheets while playing in all 17 regular-season games; Vargas posted 4 shut-outs in 16 games. Each netminder has 1 shut-out in the postseason.
The Tuzos boast the better offense, their 30 goals earning top spot alongside the Tigres. Nicolás Ibáñez led Pachuca with 9 goals (second only to André-Pierre Gignac’s 11) and the peripatetic Argentine striker has added 5 more in the Liguilla.
Atlas is led up front by the two-headed strike force of Julio Furch and Julián Quiñones. The pair teamed up for 11 goals during the regular season (Furch also led the team with 3 assists) and have combined for 3 goals and an assist in the playoffs.
The last and only time these two clubs met in the Liga MX playoffs took place in December 1999 with No. 7 seed Pachuca stunning top-seeded Atlas in the semifinals. The underdog Tuzos defeated visiting Atlas in the first leg 2-0 before losing 1-0 at Estadio Jalisco. The Tuzos went on to win their first-ever Liga MX title against Cruz Azul.
Referee Marco Antonio Ortiz has been tapped to take charge of the first leg meaning he will be the top official for the second consecutive Liga MX Finals match. Ortiz was the man with the whistle during the second leg of last season’s Final, a game Atlas won to force penalty kicks, eventually subduing León to claim the franchise’s first title in 70 years.