Stingy Rayados visit shot-happy Tuzos in Liga MX semifinal

Arturo González (left) and Luis Chávez will see alot of each other tonight as Monterrey and Pachuca square off in a Liga MX semifinal match. (Photo by Azael Rodriguez/Getty Images)
Arturo González (left) and Luis Chávez will see alot of each other tonight as Monterrey and Pachuca square off in a Liga MX semifinal match. (Photo by Azael Rodriguez/Getty Images) /
Liga MX semis 3
In Thursday’s series opener, Pachuca will have to make do without right back Kevin Álvarez (right) who was red-carded in Sunday’s Liga MX quarterfinals match against Tigres. (Photo by Alfredo Lopez/Jam Media/Getty Images) /

The last time Monterrey and Pachuca met on the Liga MX playoff stage was in late May 2016 and the Tuzos came away from Estadio BBVA Bancomer with their most recent league championship.

Six players from that series could see action in the Liga MX semifinal series that kicks off tonight in Pachuca: César Montes and Rogelio Funes Mori were members of the top-seeded Rayados team that lost in the Finals six years ago, and both will take the field for the No. 2 seeded visitors tonight, while Stefan Medina, Rodolfo Pizarro, Víctor Guzmán and Oscar Murillo hoisted the trophy that night.

However, Medina and Pizarro now play for the norteños and will first face off against former mates Guzmán and Murillo at Estadio Hidalgo before the series switches to Monterrey for Sunday’s second-leg match. One other participant in that game will be present tonight: Aldo di Nigris, now a Monterrey assistant coach, came on as a sub for the Rayados in both Finals games.

Incidentally, Guzmán was the hero back on May 29, 2016. “El Pocho” came off the bench midway through the second half and scored the trophy-clinching goal in minute 90+3. “Chucky” Lozano and Erick Gutiérrez were also members of the title-winning Tuzos.

Top two Liga MX defenses square off

While goalies Oscar Ustari (Pachuca) and Esteban Andrada (Monterrey) anchor stingy defenses (the Rayados led Liga MX with fewest goals allowed – 13; Pachuca conceded just 14), they’ll be put to the test in this two-game series.

The Tuzos led Liga MX with 336 shots, a bombardment that produced 28 goals, fourth best in the league. Not to be outdone, Monterrey scored 29 times, third-best in Liga MX.

So while there will surely be lots of attacking football, there might not be too much celebrating. Andrada and Monterrey have turned in clean sheets in five consecutive games, including both quarterfinals matches last week.

The Rayados defense produced a league best eight shut-outs during the regular season, while Pachuca blanked seven teams. The two clubs played to a scoreless draw on Matchday 17 just three weeks ago.

Although scoring is likely to be at a premium, it won’t be for a lack of offensive talent. Pachuca’s Nicolás Ibáñez led Liga MX with 11 goals, while Monterrey’s Arturo González was second in the league with 6 assists. And González will have El Tri striker Funes Mori as a target in the box now that the Rayados’ all-time leading scorer (139 goals in 284 games in all competitions) has regained fitness after missing seven games this season.

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All this being said, the action in midfield will be key to the outcome. The Tuzos rely on aggressive pressing that Erick Sánchez and Luis Chávez can turn into quick counterattacks. If Rayados skipper Celso Ortiz and linemate Luis Romo can contain Pachuca’s dynamic duo, Monterrey stands a great chance of advancing to its first final since winning it all three years ago.