While No. 2 seed América made it clear they have designs on yet another Liga MX title, coach Víctor Manuel Vucetich must wonder if his top-seeded Rayados peaked too soon.
The Liga MX quarterfinals kicked off Wednesday night with the Aguilas pouncing on 11th-seeded Atlético de San Luis early and often while Monterrey played to a listless 0-0 draw at 12th-seeded Santos Laguna.
The Tuneros will have to overturn a 3-1 deficit in the return match at Estadio Azteca on Saturday night and as the lower seed that means winning by 3 goals.
Saturday’s other match will see underdog Santos hoping to repeat the upset they pulled on Matchday 15 when they stunned Monterrey at the Estadio BBVA Bancomer.
Aguilas flash offensive firepower in pursuit of Liga MX crown
If not for back-up goalie Andrés Sánchez, América might have blown out San Luis.
Sánchez came up with two fantastic saves in the game’s first 15 minutes, but was helpless to deny Jonathan Rodríguez in minute 10.
A San Luis defender headed a corner kick to the opposite flank where Álvaro Fidalgo gathered in the ball. The Spaniard calmly lofted a cross over the scrum in the box to Rodríguez who was all alone at the back post and “Cabecita” made no mistake with the volley.
The hosts forced Luis Malagón to come up with big stop in minute 17. The América keeper dived to his right to push aside a Leo Bonatini header. Moments later, John Murillo squandered another chance to equalize, clanging a shot off the crossbar after being sent in behind the defense.
The Aguilas then made the Tuneros pay for their profligacy.
Miscommunication between Vitinho and Dieter Villalpando allowed Rodríguez to swipe the ball on the left flank. He fed Diego Valdés in the middle who swung wide to Layún on the opposite side. The veteran fullback paused at the top corner of the box and weighed his options before slinging a low centering pass that Valdés – still unmarked – headed home from inside the penalty spot.
San Luis elicited a response from the home crowd in minute 24.
América collectively fell asleep on a penalty kick, and after a hasty initial clearance by the Aguilas, the Tuneros re-centered and the ball was nodded to the back side where Bonatini was all alone to volley inside the post. That would be the high point for Atleti.
The top-scoring team in Liga MX put the game away in minute 35 when Leo Suarez let fly with a bomb from deep and his shot deflected off defender Unai Bilbao and bounced into the net.
“Los Azulcremas” continued to buzz around the San Luis area, firing 20 shots on the night.
The 25-year-old Sánchez stood bravely in the breach, coming up with 7 saves in his second straight start since Marcelo Barovero’s injury. Sánchez had just one start in the regular season after not seeing any Liga MX action since 2021, ironically enough against América.
Top-seeded Monterrey puts on indifferent performance
The Rayados ran away with the Liga MX regular-season crown thanks to a 12-game unbeaten streak (11-1-0) during which they looked like they would waltz to the title.
But since a Matchday 14 loss at América, Monterrey has been in a funk and their slick, smooth-flowing attack has looked hesitant.
At Estadio Corona last night, too many Rayados had poor first touches that disrupted offensive moves, the team appeared plagued by indecision, and they were often out-hustled by a Santos Laguna team not intimidated by the top-seeded team.
The Rayados were simply way too casual, even seeming like they thought the Guerreros would just roll over for the “best team in Liga MX.” This even though Santos Laguna shocked Monterrey back on Matchday 15.
After the club’s first-round bye, the players did appear well-rested but they lacked sharpness. That could be a concern for coach Vucetich if he feels his team his lost focus.
In minute 69, the Monterrey coach showed his displeasure, replacing three of his four frontmen but the spark the subs provided was short-lived.
The game ended in a scoreless draw with just three shots on net combined. Getting the ball on target just twice in 90 minutes against the worst defense in Liga MX is not the recipe for a deep run in the playoffs. We’ll see if coach Vucetich shakes up his line-up for the return match.