Aguilas, Rayados on track for Apertura 2019 Finals rematch

Roger Martínez (left) gave Puebla fits throughout the first half and sparked América to a 5-1 win in a Liga MX quarterfinal match at Estadio Azteca. (Photo by Mauricio Salas/Jam Media/Getty Images)
Roger Martínez (left) gave Puebla fits throughout the first half and sparked América to a 5-1 win in a Liga MX quarterfinal match at Estadio Azteca. (Photo by Mauricio Salas/Jam Media/Getty Images) /
Liga MX quarters 4
Monterrey players celebrate after Germán Berterame scored to give the Rayados a 1-0 lead in their Liga MX quarterfinal match against Cruz Azul. (Photo by Alfredo Lopez/Jam Media/Getty Images) /

The top two seeds cruised into the Liga MX semifinals suggesting a repeat of the Apertura 2019 Final could be in the offing.

No. 1 América calmly finished off a Puebla side that came into Saturday’s contest at Estadio Azteca needing to overcome a 6-1 first-leg drubbing with a clinical victory.

Up north, second-seeded Monterrey shrugged off a gallant challenge from No. 7 Cruz Azul to advance to the Final Four.

The other two semifinalists will be decided Sunday. No. 3 Santos Laguna must overcome a 4-3 deficit against Toluca, the sixth seed, while No. 5 Tigres will try to protect a 1-0 advantage during its visit to No. 4 Pachuca.

Liga MX favorites march on

América coolly extended its unbeaten streak to 14 (13-1-0) even as coach Fernando Ortiz rested six starters. The Aguilas advanced to the semifinals with a comfortable 11-2 aggregate rout of No. 8 seed Puebla.

Back-up Brian Rodríguez opened the scoring in minute 21 after another back-up Roger Martínez spoon-fed him an easy one and 6 minutes later Henry Martín was the recipient of another stellar Martínez service.

Martínez then did the honors himself, thumping home a golazo in minute 50. Álvaro Fidalgo added América’s fourth in minute 60 and Miguel Layún converted a penalty for the 5-1 final score.

The Aguilas – the best offensive team in Liga MX (49 goals through 19 games, including postseason) – were firing on all cylinders in both matches.

“Los Azulcremas” remain on pace to extend the franchise’s record Liga MX title haul to 14. The last time América reached a Liga MX final came back in December 2019 but the Aguilas came up short to Monterrey in a penalty shootout.

In Monterrey, the host Rayados rode the big shoulders of goalie Esteban Andrada to victory. The 3-0 win put an end to Cruz Azul’s six-game unbeaten streak.

Andrada’s eight saves helped preserve an early Monterrey lead provided by a Germán Berterame header off a corner kick in minute 20.

Twelve minutes later, Andrada made two fantastic reflex saves in quick succession as Cruz Azul started to assert itself. The Cementeros controlled possession and tempo much of the second half, too, raining (mostly inaccurate) crosses and centering passes into the Monterrey box.

Chances to flip the scoreboard continued but “La Máquina” was always going to have a tough time beating the Rayados, the team with the fewest losses in Liga MX. Monterrey has only lost twice this season, and only once since July 23.

Finally in minute 84, a Rayados free kick skittered through the Cementeros wall and into the box where Matías Kranevitter calmly fed an unmarked Rogelio Funes Mori at the back post and it was 2-0.

Jesús Gallardo finished off the scoring in minute 90+4, sending Cruz Azul into an offseason full of questions. The first issue to address is whether or not to give the full-time coaching gig to Raúl Gutiérrez who took over with the Cementeros in 17th place and led them to an unlikely Liga MX postseason appearance.

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In his first opportunity in Liga MX, “El Potro” guided “los Celestes” to a 6-2-2 record, including playoffs. The club’s only two losses came against Monterrey.