Leagues Cup: No. 1 Tuzos in for a fall? No. 2 Aguilas off to soaring start

Just nine months ago, Pachuca captain Óscar Ustari was parading around with the Liga MX trophy. Now he is looking for a job. (Photo by Refugio Ruiz/Getty Images)
Just nine months ago, Pachuca captain Óscar Ustari was parading around with the Liga MX trophy. Now he is looking for a job. (Photo by Refugio Ruiz/Getty Images) /
Liga MX Quinones America
Julián Quiñones now has 2 goals and 2 assists in two games with América. He helped the Liga MX giants rout St. Louis in the Leagues Cup on Thursday. (Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images) /

Pachuca is the No. 1 Liga MX seed in the Leagues Cup, yet since reaching two consecutive league finals the roster has been stripped for parts. The current locker room is, frankly, callow.

Since last summer, the Tuzos have sold off their top striker (Nicolás Ibáñez, to Tigres), their right back (Kevin Álvarez, to América), their left back (Mauricio Isaias, to Toluca), lost their left side of midfield (Luis Chávez now a free agent) and also released two wingers who were regularly in their starting 11 (Avilés Hurtado and Romario Ibarra).

Oh, then they fired their captain and goalie, Óscar Ustari, after a row with coach Guillermo Almada.

So don’t expect this team to live up to their lofty ranking.

Liga MX getting its footing

After a stumbling start in Leagues Cup competition, Liga MX teams showed a bit of swagger in closing out Matchday 2.

Leo Messi’s late-game gut punch to Cruz Azul opened the all-new Concacaf tournament, and Mexican teams staggered out of the gate with a 2-2-6 record in games against MLS clubs. And those six losses included a few that surely left Liga MX officials red-faced.

Among the more embarrassing losses were Philadelphia Union’s two cake-walks: 3-0 over Tijuana and 5-1 over Querétaro. In addition, Minnesota United hammered Puebla 4-0, FC Dallas spanked Necaxa 3-0 and Houston Dynamo routed Santos Laguna 4-0.

But since those humiliating losses, Liga MX has been on its front foot, winning all five  encounters against MLS rivals on Tuesday and Wednesday. (The Guadalajara-Cincinnati match was suspended due to severe weather with the Chivas losing 2-0 in minute 60 … and “El Rebaño Sagrado” was playing a man down.)

It helped that league giants América, Monterrey, Tigres and Toluca finally entered the fray.

All four won on their Leagues Cup debut: the Aguilas flew past St. Lous 4-0; the Rayados pounded Real Salt Lake 3-0, Toluca outscored Nashville 4-3 and Tigres scratched their way past Portland 2-1.

Twenty spots remain in knockout round

Before Matchday 2 kicked off its final set of games on Thursday, four teams had secured berths in the Round of 32, joining top seeds Pachuca and LAFC.

Mazatlán FC and León will represent Liga MX in the knockout round while Philly and Messi’s Inter Miami will aim to establish bragging rights for MLS in this first-of-its-kind tournament.

After Thursday’s results, six more teams had guaranteed advancing to the knockout round though their placement in the bracket remained undetermined. Those six teams were DC United, New England Revolution, Minnesota United, Columbus Crew and FC Dallas from MLS and América from Liga MX

That means 20 spots are at stake on Matchday 3 which is comprised of 15 games stretching from Saturday to Monday.

Quiñones responds in second start for América

Julián Quiñones now has a goal and assist in each of his two appearances since joining América from Atlas in early July.

Quiñones debuted in an Aguilas jersey in style. On Matchday 3, he assisted Kevin Álvarez on the opener in minute 35 then poked home the clincher (87’) in the club’s 3-0 victory over Puebla.

JQ was at it again Thursday night in St. Louis in Leagues Cup action. He found Henry Martín all alone inside the box in minute 5 to get the Aguilas off to a flying start and doubled América’s pleasure 6 minutes after the halftime break.

“Los Azulcremas” went on to win 4-0, dominating the club that currently sits atop the MLS Western Conference.

To say Quiñones is off to a dream start at América is an understatement.

He joined an elite list by scoring on his debut with the Liga MX giants.

Luis García, “Zague,” Cuauhtémoc Blanco, Iván “Bam Bam” Zamorano, Claudio López, Djalminha, Matías Vuoso, Andrés Chitiva, “Chucho” Benítez, Darwin Quintero have added their names to that list over the past 40 years.

Next. Monterrey woos Lucas Moura; 'Tuca' in hot seat. dark

Federico Viñas (Apertura 2019) was the most recent Aguila to turn the trick, thumping home from inside the penalty spot against the Pumas on Sept. 14, 2019.