Liga MX Notebook: Playoff picture gets murkier with two games remaining

César Huerta pumps his fist after scoring the go-ahead of UNAM in the Pumas' 3-1 win over Toluca. The victory puts UNAM back in the Liga MX playoff picture. (Photo by Mauricio Salas/Jam Media/Getty Images)
César Huerta pumps his fist after scoring the go-ahead of UNAM in the Pumas' 3-1 win over Toluca. The victory puts UNAM back in the Liga MX playoff picture. (Photo by Mauricio Salas/Jam Media/Getty Images) /
Liga MX M15 post-mortem
Santos Laguna’s Harold Preciado converts a late penalty kick to give the Guerreros a 2-1 upset win at Monterrey, handing the Rayados their second straight loss. Even so, Monterrey sits atop the Liga MX table with two games remaining. (Photo by Azael Rodriguez/Getty Images) /

Just two weekends remain on the Clausura 2023 regular-season calendar, this after Matchday 15 served only to muddy the Liga MX playoff picture even further. Several title favorites and contenders stumbled badly while a few pretenders suddenly became giant killers, stirring up the standings quite a bit.

There are three things we know for sure: Monterrey has secured a first-round bye, and neither Mazatlán FC nor Querétaro will be in the Liga MX playoffs.

We also know that six teams have qualified for the Big Dance – Monterrey, América, Toluca, Guadalajara, León and defending champion Pachuca – but their final seeding is anything but clear.

As it is, 10 teams will be duking it out for the final six wildcard spots and six clubs will be wrestling over the three available first-round byes, a scenario that should provide some very entertaining fútbol for Liga MX fans.

Oddsmakers take a hit

A few weeks ago, first-place Monterrey (34 points) was the betting favorite to claim the franchise’s 6th Liga MX championship.

The Rayados had fashioned a 12-game unbeaten streak (11-1-0) since losing the season opener at Guadalajara and were playing slick, attacking football. Víctor Manuel Vucetich’s men had a 9-game lead atop the table after clinching a playoff spot following a 4-0 rout of Tijuana on Matchday 13.

After back-to-back losses (including a 2-1 stunner at home against Santos Laguna on Sunday), some bettors are climbing off the Monterrey bandwagon. Still, a win at last-place Mazatlán FC on Friday will ensure the No. 1 playoff seed for the Rayados.

The new handicappers darling is América. The Aguilas ran roughshod over Monterrey to squash the Rayados’ 12-game run then dominated 10-man Cruz Azul on Saturday to climb within 4 points of first place.

Meanwhile, Toluca tumbled out of second place by laying an egg against then 15th-place UNAM on Sunday.

The Diablos Rojos (28 points) looked to be on pace to reprise their appearance in the Liga MX Final until crashing and burning at the CU. Still, with lowly FC Juárez (17th place) and Necaxa (16th place) remaining on the schedule, “los Choriceros” (28 points) are in prime position to snatch one of the remaining first-round byes.

As for the Pumas, the hiring of Antonio “El Turco” Mohamed has produced a timely revival and “los felinos” (17 points, now in 12th place) find themselves in the thick of the wildcard race. Unfortunately, UNAM finishes up at América and at Monterrey even though Mohamed (who coached both of those franchises to Liga MX titles) announced before the weekend that he thinks the Pumas can win out.

Chasing a Top 4 seed

At least one of Guadalajara (28 points), León (26 points) or Pachuca (25 points) will claim a first-round playoff bye. And actually all three could finish in the Top 4 if Toluca and América fail to win either of their remaining games. But that’s unlikely.

The Chivas looked impressive on Saturday, frustrating León with solid defense then finding the net twice in the second half to claim a huge road win that allowed them to leapfrog León into 4th place.

The Esmeraldas are winless in their last three (0-2-1), a mini-slump that has seen them tumble from 2nd to 5th.

While Guadalajara hosts 8th-place Cruz Azul on Saturday, “La Fiera” visits 15th-place Tijuana on Friday.

For its part, Pachuca looked awful during its 4-1 pounding at the hands of Atlas (17 points ). The Tuzos have been on a roller-coaster ride of late (four wins and four losses in their past eight) and they need to find some consistency if they have any hope of defending their title.

As for Atlas, a 2-2-0 run has the Zorros looking like a playoff team after missing out last season. “Los Rojinegros” have two winnable games remaining (at Necaxa, at Atlético de San Luis) but they can’t let up since the Tuneros (18 points) also have designs on reaching the postseason.

In the middle of the Liga MX table …

Tigres were a popular pick as title favorite before the season, but a run of bad form and poor results have them looking at a wildcard game.

“Los felinos norteños” have experienced two coaching changes (Diego Cocca took the El Tri job after Matchday 5 and interim coach Marco Antonio Ruiz was canned eight days ago after a home loss to last-place Mazatlán FC) and have not won a league game since March 3. Robert Siboldi has been tasked with righting the Tigres ship.

As a result, Tigres (22 points) are in 7th place and find themselves facing a crowded schedule as they must take on León twice in a Concacaf Champions League semifinal. Ironically, those two matches sandwich the season finale against that same León team.

Eighth-place Cruz Azul (21 points) was dismantled by América on Saturday and a visit to Guadalajara is not what the doctor ordered. If the Cementeros lose at Estadio Akron on Saturday, they could conceivably be fighting for their playoff lives in the finale against 9th-place Santos Laguna (19 points) at Estadio Azteca on April 29.

Next. Diego Cocca preparing El Tri for Team USA. dark

The final serious wildcard contender is 10th-place Atlético de San Luis. The Tuneros have won 3 of their last 5 to climb into contention, but a visit to Pachuca looms and Andre Jardine’s men have won just once on the road all season. As such, their season finale at home against Atlas could be for the final playoff spot.