The Clausura 2023 has come down to the penultimate weekend and the playoff picture is finally taking shape.
Besides offering some tantalizing match-ups, Saturday’s triple-header (Atlético de San Luis at Pachuca; Cruz Azul at Guadalajara; UNAM at América) could clear things up at the top as well as the bottom of the Liga MX table.
Monterrey clinched the No. 1 seed with Friday night’s scrappy 2-0 win at last-place Mazatlán FC but three first-round byes remain and four wildcard berths are unclaimed.
Last night’s results allowed Cruz Azul to secure a wildcard spot while tonight’s results could see UNAM and San Luis clinch postseason invitations with victories while América could nab a first-round bye with a win.
Matchday 16 permutations, Saturday edition
Holders Pachuca has seemed schizophrenic since midseason. The Tuzos followed bumbling performances against Tijuana and Toluca with a shocking rout of América on Matchday 10. Since then, Guillermo Almada has watched his men alternate wins and losses, most recently suffering a 4-1 humiliation at the hands of Atlas on the heels of a dominating 4-1 win at Santos Laguna.
The reigning Liga MX champs welcome a Tuneros team that is battling to qualify for Wildcard Weekend. The ever-demanding Almada will want to see a coherent display from the Tuzos, especially on defense which has been a mess. During their championship run last season, Pachuca conceded 21 goals (including the six playoff games) but have allowed 23 goals already. As San Luis has the second-worst offense in Liga MX (15 goals), Tuzos captain and goalie Oscar Ustari will be looking for just his fourth shut-out of the Clausura.
Cruz Azul arrives to Guadalajara knowing a draw will clinch home field on Wildcard Weekend while the Chivas are aiming for a Top 4 finish. A win and a Pachuca draw or loss would provide “El Rebaño Sagrado” with the margin they need to secure a first-round bye.
The Cementeros are still licking their wounds from last week’s whipping at the hands of América. “La Máquina Azul” will be without striker Michael Estrada (no big loss, in my opinion) whose first-half red-card opened the floodgates for the Aguilas.
Guadalajara has been playing sublime soccer this month, bouncing back swiftly after a Matchday 12 pounding from América. With Alexis Vega, Víctor Guzmán and Fernando Beltrán leading and efficient offense and Miguel Jiménez back-stopping a gritty defense, Vlejko Paunovic has the Chivas challenging for the franchise’s 13th Liga MX title.
In tonight’s curtain-closer, Liga MX fans will be treated to the “Clásico Capitalino.” América has dominated this Mexico City derby of late … during the regular season, that is.
You have to go back to February 2019 to find the last time the Pumas defeated the Aguilas in a regular-season match, but UNAM fans can gleefully point to the Apertura 2021 quarterfinals to taunt América fans. Then, the 11th-seeded “felinos” shocked the top-seeded Aguilas 3-1 on aggregate to knock the favorites out of the Liga MX playoffs.
Tonight, UNAM will try to continue its resurgence under the direction of Antonio Mohamed (“El Turco” led América to the Apertura 2014 title). Since taking over nearly three weeks ago, Mohamed has guided the Pumas to a pair of 3-1 victories, wins that boosted the club into the thick of the wildcard race.
Meanwhile, the Aguilas are soaring, riding a 4-1-0 streak into second place. The Mexico City giants have just 1 loss on the season (nobody else in Liga MX has fewer than 3 losses) and star striker Henry Martín is playing at an MVP level, leading the league in goals (13) and assists (5).
Facing the league’s most potent offense, UNAM knows it must be efficient in possession and guard against América counterattacks. The Aguilas will focus on shutting down Pumas striker Juan Ignacio Dinenno (8 goals) as well as wingers César Huerta and Eduardo Salvio. This will be an intense battle which is expected to set a season-high attendance record (66,000+ were at Estadio Azteca to see last weekend’s Cruz Azul-América contest).
Elsewhere in Liga MX
Tigres snapped a five-game winless streak with a 1-0 win over Puebla. Though the victory was hardly convincing, it did clinch home field advantage on Wildcard Weekend.
André-Pierre Gignac supplied the goal from the penalty spot and Tigres will now turn their attention to León against whom they will play three games in nine days (twice in the Concacaf Champions League semifinals and next weekend in their Liga MX season finale).
For its part, León settled for a scoreless draw at Tijuana in a hard-fought contest that featured shoddy officiating. The Esmeraldas were forced to play a man down for 76 minutes after a questionable red-card was shown to defender Oscar Villa.
The result might have cost “La Fiera” a chance at a first-round playoff bye, but for now their attention will turn to the upcoming matches against Tigres.
On Friday night, Atlas routed Necaxa 3-1 to clinch a wildcard spot and move into shouting distance of claiming home-field advantage. The Zorros must win next week against Atlético de San Luis while Cruz Azul does not win either of its remaining games.