Northern giants square off for bragging rights and a spot in the final

Tigres fans will be in full throat tonight when the Liga MX semifinals kick off. (Photo by JULIO CESAR AGUILAR/AFP via Getty Images)
Tigres fans will be in full throat tonight when the Liga MX semifinals kick off. (Photo by JULIO CESAR AGUILAR/AFP via Getty Images) /
Clasico Regio Liga MX semis 1
Luis Romo (center) celebrates after scoring for Monterrey in a Liga MX contest against Tigres on March 18. the Rayados and Tigres face off in a semifinal series beginning tonight. (Photo by Alfredo Lopez/Jam Media/Getty Images) /

First of four Liga MX derbies in next five days

All eyes will be on “El Volcán” tonight. No, I’m not talking about Popo, the volcano spewing pyroclastic flows that are causing local governments to prepare refugee centers in Puebla.

No, I’m talking about Estadio Universitario in suburban Monterrey where the 117th rendition of the “Clásico Regiomontano” will be staged as part of the Liga MX semifinals.

The 7th-ranked Tigres play host to their cross-town rivals, the top-seeded Rayados of Monterrey, in the first match of a two-game series to determine who will advance to the Liga MX finals.

Tigres will be aiming to hoist their 8th Liga MX trophy while Monterrey is chasing its 6th league championship. The return match will be held at the Estadio BBVA Bancomer on Saturday night.

Monterrey came out on top in regular season

Thanks to a Luis Romo wonder strike – a laser from nearly 35 meters out – the Rayados ended their 8-game winless streak (0-4-4) at “El Volcán.” Romo’s blast in minute 68 was the lone goal of the Matchday 12 contest.

Monterrey’s previous road win in the “Clásico Regio” came back on May 11, 2016, in a quarterfinal playoff series that saw the top-seeded Rayados advance before moving on to the Liga MX Final whereupon they lost to Pachuca.

Another Monterrey derby in Liga MX playoffs

Tonight’s game marks the sixth time these two northern rivals will square off in the Liga MX postseason since 2013, including a clash in the Finals (the Tigres won the Apertura 2017 title over the Rayados by a 3-2 aggregate score).

The most recent Liguilla collision between these two bitter adversaries came in the Clausura 2019 semifinals with the No. 2 seeded Tigres edging past No. 3 Monterrey by virtue of its higher seed (they each won 1-0 at home). “Los felinos” went on to claim the trophy by squeaking by No. 1 seed León (1-0 aggregate), their most recent Liga MX title.

Overall, these two clubs have faced off 16 times in the Liga MX postseason dating back to 1979. That season, the playoffs featured group stages (their two meetings resulted in a Tigres win and a draw) but neither club advanced out of the group.

The next four times the Nuevo León-based franchises met in the playoffs (Clausura 2003 semifinal, Apertura 2005 semifinal, Clausura 2013 quarterfinal, Clausura 2016 quarterfinal), Monterrey advanced.

Since then, Tigres has had the upper hand, knocking out the Rayados in the Clausura 2017 quarterfinals, the Apertura 2017 final and the Clausura 2019 semifinal.

Neither team enters the semifinals in particularly good form. Tigres blew a 3-goal lead against Toluca in the quarterfinals before Sebastián Córdova provided the winner, while Monterrey needed 158 minutes before finally putting away 12th-seeded Santos Laguna.

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In the other Liga MX semifinal …

The other pairing in the Liga MX Final Four is the so-called “Super Clásico” pitting No. 2 seed América against the No. 3 seed Chivas. The two most popular teams in Mexico will play Thursday night in Guadalajara and Sunday at the Estadio Azteca in Mexico City.