Tigres, Cruz Azul favored on Day 1 of Liga MX Wildcard Weekend

Alonso Escoboza (left) played the hero for Cruz Azul back on Matchday 16, scoring in minute 90+2 as the Cementeros defeated León. The two clubs meet again in a Liga MX wildcard game tonight. (Photo by Agustin Cuevas/Getty Images)
Alonso Escoboza (left) played the hero for Cruz Azul back on Matchday 16, scoring in minute 90+2 as the Cementeros defeated León. The two clubs meet again in a Liga MX wildcard game tonight. (Photo by Agustin Cuevas/Getty Images) /
Liga MX wildcard 1
Necaxa defender Alexis Peña (left) will be paying special attention to Tigres striker Andre Pierre Gignac (right) when the Rayos take on Tigres in a Liga MX wildcard game on Saturday. (Photo by JULIO CESAR AGUILAR/AFP via Getty Images) /

Liga MX Wildcard Weekend kicks off tonight with a heavily favored Tigres hosting 12th-seeded Necaxa followed by an enticing Cruz Azul-León match-up.

The fifth-seeded Tigres are considered title contenders even after an uninspired Apertura 2022 that saw the talent-laden “felinos” score only 24 goals – just over 1.4 goals per match – despite a front line that features André-Pierre Gignac, Nicolás “Diente” López and Jordy Caicedo.

Miguel Herrera can also summon playmakers such as Sebastián Córdova, Florian Thauvin and Luis Quiñones, yet his team has had trouble finding the net. This despite the fact that only Pachuca (314) took more shots than Tigres – 278. The club’s conversion rate (11.5%) place it eighth in Liga MX.

Still, the northern juggernaut is not expected to have any trouble dispatching Necaxa, a team that backed into the 12th and final Liga MX playoff spot when neither Mazatlán FC nor Tijuana could get the result they needed last Sunday.

Are Rayos just happy to be here?

Jimmy Lozano’s side has the most losses of any Liga MX playoff team though that should come as no surprise for the lowest-seeded club in the postseason.

Still three of Necaxa’s five wins came against other playoff teams (No. 4 Pachuca, No. 10 Léon and No. 11 FC Juárez) but the Rayos finished the season on a 5-game winless streak (0-2-3). On the other hand, “los Electricistas” escaped “El Volcán” with a 0-0 draw back on Matchday 11, one of the four times Tigres was blanked this season.

No. 10 León at No. 7 Cruz Azul

The Cementeros welcome the Esmeraldas to Estadio Azteca, site of their Matchday 16 contest just over three weeks ago. “La Máquina” edged “La Fiera” 2-1 thanks to a last-gasp goal by Alonso Escoboza.

That victory is the difference between Cruz Azul being the No. 10 seed and the Esmeraldas hosting the Cementeros as the No. 7 seed. Of course, León has only itself to blame because they had to scramble for a draw against visiting Tijuana in their season finale at home when a win over the 15th-placed Xolos would have boosted them into the 7th seed as well.

Both teams underachieved this season, though Cruz Azul enters the match on a six-game unbeaten streak (4-1-1) that saw the Cementeros climb from 17th to 7th, and their form under interim coach Raúl Gutiérrez makes them the favorite heading into tonight’s match.

As for León, the Esmeraldas struggled early under the guidance of first-year coach Renato Paiva, a newcomer to Liga MX. Recently a league powerhouse (the club reached three of the previous Liga MX Finals, winning the title in December 2020), “La Fiera” is undergoing a transition yet still relying on a few veterans who seem to be on their last wheels.

León will rely on first-year striker Lucas DiYorio and midfield general Luis Montes to attack a depleted Cruz Azul back line that might be missing both Ramiro Funes Mori and Juan Escobar. Going the other direction, the Cementeros will hope Gonzalo Carneiro, Uriel Antuna and Angel Romero can exploit a shaky León defense that has been bolstered by the return of William Tesillo.

Other Liga MX news

While only one Liga MX coach was fired during the Apertura 2022, two coaches have departed since the season ended.

Diego Cocca has left Atlas after leading “los Rojinegros” to back-to-back titles. This announcement came earlier this month and the move was apparently a mutual decision.

The Zorros have already named Cocca’s successor – Benjamín Mora. The 43-year-old Mexico City native started his coaching career in the lower divisions of Liga MX before finding considerable success in Malaysia.

The second coach dismissed since Matchday 17 was Andrés Lillini who departs after a very disappointing campaign with UNAM. Lillini led the Pumas to the Concacaf Champions League Final in April but “los Azul y Oro” were trounced by Seattle Sounders. And after the Pumas finished the Apertura 2022 with only two wins, the front office decided they’d seen enough.

It didn’t take long for “los universitarios” to fill the vacancy and legendary coach Ricardo Ferretti returns for a third stint as Pumas manager.

Next. Liga MX By the Numbers. dark

“Tuca” led UNAM to a Liga MX title 13 years ago and joining him as assistant coach will be Guillermo Vázquez, also a former Pumas manager who led the club to a league championship in 2011. Both “Tuca” and “Memo” also starred for UNAM as players.