Streaking León joins hunt for first-round playoff byes

Ángel Mena and León have climbed back into the thick of the Liga MX title chase thanks to a six-game unbeaten streak. (Photo by Alfredo Moya/Jam Media/Getty Images)
Ángel Mena and León have climbed back into the thick of the Liga MX title chase thanks to a six-game unbeaten streak. (Photo by Alfredo Moya/Jam Media/Getty Images) /
Liga MX M11 capsules
Jonathan Rodríguez is mobbed by teammates after putting América up 1-0 in a Liga MX Matchday 11 contest Saturday night. The Aguilas defeated Tigres 2-0. (Photo by Fredy Lopez/Jam Media/Getty Images) /

A few weeks ago, we remarked how the Liga MX title chase was looking like a six-team race. Well, León’s six-game unbeaten streak (4-2-0) has turned the Clausura 2023 into a seven-team free-for-all … sort of.

Table-topping Monterrey visits defending champion Pachuca this afternoon with a chance to separate themselves from the pack. A Rayados win would give them a 7-point cushion and could essentially transform the rest of the Liga MX season into a six-team race for playoff seeds 2, 3 and 4 (and the first-round byes that go with them).

Already this weekend, Toluca has climbed back into second place, taking advantage of losses by Tigres and Guadalajara, while América halted its two-game “slump” (a draw and a loss) with an impressive road win.

These events have set the stage perfectly for next weekend when the two best derbies of Liga MX – “el Clásico Regiomontano” (Monterrey at Tigres) and “el Super Clásico” (América at Chivas) – will take place.

Liga MX capsules

Puebla 1, Guadalajara 0

Guadalajara’s four-game win streak (and seven-game unbeaten streak) crashed to a halt and the Chivas now head into the Big Game against América with a few question marks. Especially on offense.

In minute 40, Puebla fullback Gustavo Ferrareis got a head of steam dribbling down the right channel and as the Chivas defense kept ceding ground he let fly from 25 meters and rippled the net behind Miguel Jiménez.

Three minutes later, “Pocho” Guzmán’s bomb from 35 meters rang off the underside of the crossbar but bounced harmlessly away. And that was the closes the Chivas came to scoring.

Deep into first-half stoppage time, Chivas fullback Alan Mozo – a constant threat on the right flank – zipped a nifty low cross through the box but Carlos Cisneros whiffed from right in front.

Guadalajara dominated possession but only managed to get two of their 19 shots on net and both were handled expertly by Antony Silva.

In minute 73, Roberto Alvarado cleverly controlled a pass inside the box and got off a quick shot, but Silva had cut down the angle and parried it away. Four minutes later, Daniel Rios headed a Cristian Calderón pass off the crossbar from point-blank range and that was the extent of the Chivas offense.

Tigres 0, América 2

“El Volcán” is no longer intimidating opponents, Liga MX or otherwise.

Four days after settling for a scoreless draw against visiting Orlando City SC in a Concachampions match, Tigres again failed to score at home and this time it cost them.

Coming off a 3-0 shellacking from Pachuca, América seemed ripe for the taking but the Aguilas looked sharp, patiently probing the Tigres defense and producing dangerous chances.

Jonathan Rodríguez finished off a nifty offensive move with a line drive from the edge of the box and América clinched the win with a spectacular counter off a Tigres corner kick with Leo Suárez poking home a pass from Diego Valdés.

América has now defeated Tigres eight consecutive times, including four straight at “El Volcán.” In fact, you have to go back to a December 2017 playoff match (a Liga MX semifinal) to find the last time “los felinos” beat the Aguilas at Estadio Universitario.

Tigres are now a very mortal 2-2-2 at home with a visit from bitter rivals Monterrey on Saturday. And that will come after a mid-week trip to Orlando for the second leg of their Concachampions Round of 16 series.

América, on the other hand, travels to Guadalajara for the “Super Clásico” with pride and confidence restored.

Toluca 4, Mazatlán FC 1

The host Diablos Rojos took advantage of a Nicolás Benedetti ejection to pull away from the last-place Cañoneros.

Benedetti had knotted the score at 1-1 in minute 38 as Toluca looked uninspired. But “los Choriceros” responded to the minute 45 red card by scoring just before the lifetime whistle, then cruised to victory in the second half.

The score could have been 6-1 or worse, but Toluca couldn’t get out of its own way. Still, the result boosts the Diablos Rojos to second place in the Liga MX table (21 points).

Atlas 0, León 1

The Esmeraldas did just enough to win and, in so doing, announced their intention of competing for the Liga MX title.

Víctor Dávila got the lone goal (18’) and “La Fiera” kept the Zorros at bay with solid, if unspectacular play.

León now has 18 points – just 3 points out of second place – and has a game in hand (at last-place Mazatlán FC on March 24).

The Green Machine must deal with a Concacahampions fixture (at home vs Panama’s Tauro FC) before resuming Liga MX play next weekend against Santos Laguna.

Cruz Azul 1, UNAM 0

UNAM coach Rafa Puente might be getting a pink slip soon. There were reports that he’d been given an ultimatum of win-or-else, but there have been no reports of a sacking at the CU as of time of writing.

The Cementeros have seemingly risen from the dead after a horrendous start that cost Raúl Gutiérrez his job, and the win lifts “La Máquina Azul” into eighth place momentarily.

Sub Alonso Escoboza netted the winner in minute 84, thumping home a lovely cross from Ignacio Rivero.

The Pumas now sit in 14th place and have lost 5 of 6.

Atlético de San Luis 2, Querétaro 0

Matchday 11 was launched Friday with Atlético de San Luis hosting Querétaro in a battle of also-rans.

The hijinks at Estadio Alfonso Lastras can best be described as a cascade of errors and stumbles fed by poor passing, bad dribbling and terrible spacing. But the pitch looked to be in lovely condition.

Liga MX struggles in Concachampions. dark. Next

The host Tuneros gave under-fire coach André Jardine a momentary reprieve by outlasting Querétaro 2-0. The loss extends the Gallos Blancos’ road winless streak to 52 games. Their last win away from home – Feb. 16, 2020 (Necaxa 2, Querétaro 3).