The first two Liga MX semifinalists will be determined tonight as seventh-seeded Cruz Azul visits No. 2 Monterrey and top-seeded América welcomes eighth seed Puebla.
The other two Final Four participants will emerge from a Sunday night double-header that features No. 6 Toluca at No. 3 Santos followed by No. 5 Tigres at No. 4 Pachuca.
There will be considerable attention on the officials this weekend after controversial decisions in three of the four first-leg matches.
Calls and non-calls came under heavy scrutiny in the Cruz Azul-Monterrey match (a penalty claim by each team was ignored), the Toluca-Santos contest (a penalty for each team and a red card for Santos) and the Tigres-Pachuca game (a controversial penalty in minute 88 earned Tigres the victory).
Liga MX favorites continue soaring
I’m going to go out on a limb here: No. 1 seed América will advance to the Final Four.
OK, granted you won’t win too much at the betting window with that advice as the Aguilas enter the return match at Estadio Azteca with a 6-1 advantage.
As the lower seed, Puebla must defeat “los Azulcremas” by six goals since a global tie goes to the higher seed, but as América is riding a 13-game unbeaten streak the Camoteros are given little chance to put a scare into the might Aguilas.
The only suspense in tonight’s first match is how much América coach Fernando Ortiz rotates his men. With the 6-goal cushion, “Tano” can protect his starters by controlling their minutes or give top subs a few extra minutes of game action.
Nicolás Lacarmón and his men will simply try to close out their season with a little self-respect.
Daniel Quintero will have the whistle for this match. The 32-year-old ref is in his third full season in Liga MX and is gaining the confidence of league officials.
Can Cementeros overcome injuries on defense?
A bruised and battered Cruz Azul will take the field in Monterrey tonight hoping to upset the favored Rayados, but will have to do so without two top defenders.
Ramiro Funes Mori and Rafael Guerrero did not make the trip and coach Raúl Gutiérrez has little help on the bench should an injury or a red card occur.
Since stepping in as interim coach in late August, “El Potro” has settled on a 5-man back line, a decision that helped improve what had been the worst defense in Liga MX.
Without Funes Mori and Guerrero, Cruz Azul will open with Juan Escobar, Julio César Domínguez and Luis Abram in front of skipper Jesús Corona, while Ignacio Rivero and Rodrigo Huescas man the alleys. The defense did admirably in the first-leg contest, holding Monterrey scoreless as the game ended in a 0-0 draw.
There are no veteran central defenders on the roster behind these guys (20-year-old Jorge García has only 19 minutes of action on his Liga MX résumé) and if any adjustments are required, it will involve someone playing out of position.
Monterrey is clearly the deeper team, but has had the nagging tendency to play down to its competition.
Injuries have certainly played a part but, despite the attacking talent on hand, the Rayados finished a distant third in the Liga MX scoring race, nine back of América and Santos Laguna.
The northern giants are expected to get past “La Máquina” tonight as they have dominated the Cementeros of late. You have to go back to the Clausura 2013 to find the last time Cruz Azul won at Monterrey, and the Rayados eliminated “los Celestes” the last time they met in the Liga MX playoffs (a 4-1 wipeout a year ago).