The Liga MX semifinals are set and the question being asked is: Can anyone stop the América juggernaut?
No. 6 seed Toluca gets first crack at the high-flying Aguilas. The Diablos host the top-seeded Mexico City giants on Wednesday at 9 pm local time.
The return match will be at Estadio Azteca on Saturday night.
The other pairing sees the No. 2 Rayados of Monterrey taking on No. 4 Pachuca, both of whom are believed to have a better chance of keeping pace with No. 1 América than are “los Choriceros.”
Liga MX title is América’s to lose
The Aguilas waltzed into the Liga MX Final Four after completing a record-setting 11-2 demolition of Puebla.
América will arrive to “La Bombonera” on a 14-game unbeaten streak (13-1-0) during which the Aguilas have outscored their opponents 44-11. América won 6 of 9 road games – tops in Liga MX with 18 points away from home – while outscoring their hosts 18-11.
“Los Azulcremas” have been in fine form most of the Apertura 2022. In addition to finishing atop the Liga MX table, the club was the top scoring team in the league (38 goals in 17 regular-season games), the runaway winner of the Fair Play Award (fewest yellow cards and not a single red card all season long) and unbeaten at home (6-2-0).
Fernando Ortiz deserves most of the credit for América’s status as favorites. “Tano” is 21-6-5 (playoffs included) since taking over from Santiago Solari last season. His won-loss record is bolstered by a 6-game win streak last season and a 9-game run this season.
The sixth-seeded Diablos Rojos are the lone “underdog” to emerge from the quarterfinals, outscoring No. 3 Santos Laguna 6-4 on aggregate. Their shaky team defense makes them a huge underdog in the semifinals.
Then again, few pundits had given Toluca much of a chance against a Santos Laguna team that had ended América 9-game win streak with an entertaining 3-3 draw at Estadio Azteca on Sept. 14.
Even after emerging from the first leg with a slight 4-3 advantage, Toluca was not expected to survive the weekend.
Toluca had won just once in its previous 19 visits to Torreón, going 1-7-11 over the past 18 years, while the Guerreros were the best home team in Liga MX this season (8-1-0, 24 goals scored, 7 goals allowed). And Santos had not lost at home in 15 matches dating back to a 4-1 thrashing from Necaxa on Jan. 23 of this year.
Then again, Toluca was not required to win at Estadio Corona. A draw would have seen them through to the Liga MX Final Four.
Though even at halftime (0-0), the visiting Diablos Rojos had not managed a single shot on goal while Santos let fly 13 times, keeping Tiago Volpi busy. The Brazilian goalie proved up to the challenge, making 5 saves, punching out crosses and keeping his area nearly spotless.
By the end of 90 minutes, “los Choriceros” had but three shots on net … but two of them found their way across the line and that was enough for the 2-1 victory. Santos’ goal came deep into stoppage time, only narrowing the aggregate score to 6-4.
So the Liga MX juggernaut will march into the State of Mexico looking to impose its will. Toluca – a modest 4-4-1 at home, during the regular season – has held court during the Liga MX playoffs (pummeling FC Juárez 3-0 and stunning Santos 4-3) and will hope to survive the expected onslaught enough so as to have a fighter’s chance in Saturday’s return match.
The two teams met back in July on Matchday 3 with América coming away with a hard-fought 1-0 victory.