Liga MX is paused this week for a FIFA break allowing us to check out how the playoff race looks with five matchdays remaining.
At the top of the table, Monterrey (31 points) has already clinched a playoff berth. Not only do the Rayados have a seemingly insurmountable 8-point lead over second-place América, but the northern giants could go winless from here out and still host a wildcard game.
That’s right. Víctor Manuel Vucetich’s men could lose their next five matches and still finish no lower than eighth as they have a 15-point lead over 8th-place Cruz Azul.
The real battles down the stretch will be for seeds 2 through 4 (and the first-round bye that goes with a Top 4 finish) and the final two or three playoff berths (10th through 12th place).
Six in fight for playoff byes
Two points is all that separates the next six teams looking up to Monterrey in the Liga MX standings. América (23 points), Toluca (22), Pachuca (21), León (21), Tigres (21) and Guadalajara (21) are the likeliest candidates to fill out the Top 4 seeds.
When the Clausura 2023 resumes next week, the first two of several key clashes will be on tap: León at América and Tigres at Toluca.
Matchday 14 provides us a potential Finals preview when Monterrey pays a visit to América, while M-15 finds Guadalajara traveling to León to take on the resurgent Esmeraldas.
León must face another head-on challenge on the final weekend of the season when Tigres arrives to the Camp Nou.
One team that could play spoiler is Cruz Azul. The eighth-place Cementeros take on teams above them in the standings on four consecutive matchdays: M-13 at Pachuca; M-14 at León; M-15 hosting América; and M-16 at Guadalajara. If La Máquina somehow runs the table, they could actually put in a claim for a Top 4 seed … or they could collapse and finish out of the playoff picture as they are only 4 points above 13th-place Necaxa.
Chasing a wildcard invitation
The scramble for the final playoff spots could be quite entertaining as only 4 points separate 10th-place FC Juárez and 16th-place UNAM. And 17th-place Querétaro is only another 2 points back though with just one win on the season the Gallos Blancos don’t look likely to mount a late-season charge.
FC Juárez controls its own destiny as the Bravos face teams involved in the wildcard race each of the next three weeks.
The first big match-up takes place a week from Friday when 11th-place Puebla (13 points) visits 10th-place FC Juárez (13). On Matchday 14, the Bravos host 12th-place Atlas (12) and four days later Juárez pays a visit to 15th-place Atlético de San Luis (12).
Other “head-to-head” match-ups to watch are 13th-place Necaxa (12) hosting Atlas on Matchday 16 and, on the season’s final weekend, Atlas visits Atleti de San Luis and Puebla hosts 14th-place Tijuana (12).
Another Liga MX coach bites the dust
Rafael Puente, Jr., is the fourth Liga MX coach to get a pink slip this season, following Gabriel Caballero (Mazatlán FC), Ricardo Valiño (Tijuana) and Raúl Gutiérrez (Cruz Azul).
We aren’t including Diego Cocca on this list even though the Tigres did release the manager when he accepted the El Tri job.
Puente got canned after the Pumas 2-0 home loss to defending Liga MX champs Pachuca. It was UNAM’s third setback at the CU in six games this season, and what’s worse “los felinos” have given up 12 goals in front of the home fans.
It wasn’t only the 3-2-7 record (16th place) that led the front office to fire Puente, it was also the manner in which the Pumas lost. For the fourth time in the past six games, an UNAM player was red-carded, demonstrating a lack of discipline. The Pumas went 1-0-5 in those six games.
The club’s financial woes are also impacting the locker room where several veterans (especially captain Nico Freire and star striker Juan Ignacio Dinenno) have seemingly checked out on the team, apparently looking ahead to a change of scenery over the summer.
The situation is so bad that team president Leopoldo Silva and GM Miguel Mejía Barón submitted their resignations though they were apparently rejected.
Raúl Alpízar, the UNAM academy director, will take the reins for the remainder of the current Liga MX season while management compiles a candidate list. Alpízar’s first test comes against Querétaro, one of only two teams below the Pumas in the table.