Three Liga MX teams face must-win situations on Matchday 7

América's Henry Martín (right) – last season's Liga MX scoring champ – is expected back in the line-up for Saturday's contest against Cruz Azul, so Cementeros captain Juan Escobar (left) will have his hands full. (Photo by Mauricio Salas/Jam Media/Getty Images)
América's Henry Martín (right) – last season's Liga MX scoring champ – is expected back in the line-up for Saturday's contest against Cruz Azul, so Cementeros captain Juan Escobar (left) will have his hands full. (Photo by Mauricio Salas/Jam Media/Getty Images) /
Liga MX M7
The battle in midfield between Pachuca’s Erick Sánchez (left) and Toluca’s Marcel Ruiz should be fun to watch when the Tuzos and Diablos Rojos square off in a Liga MX match on Sunday. (Photo by Jam Media/Getty Images) /

Liga MX teams have one final weekend before the Apertura 2023 is once again interrupted, this time for the September FIFA break.

Unlike last season (when Monterrey reeled off a 12-game unbeaten streak starting on Matchday 2), there has been no dominant team and we might be looking at a battle royale for first-round playoff byes down the stretch.

To everybody’s surprise, Atlético de San Luis sits atop the Liga MX table (and this is not hyperbole; nobody – and I mean nobody – had the Tuneros competing for a top seed).

Though it’s a bit too early to claim that Matchday 7 is make-or-break for several teams, it is not an exaggeration to suggest that some teams could be left muttering “Wait till next year” if they don’t get a result this weekend.

León, Pachuca and Cruz Azul face must-win games

León figured to be a title contender after adding Federico Viñas and Nicolás “Diente” López to its attack force but the Uruguayan duo did not mesh well in their first start together last week (a 1-1 draw at América).

Worse, their normally stingy defense has been leaky (8 goals allowed in six games) despite having all their regulars available.

On Saturday, the Esmeraldas play host to Necaxa (last in the Liga MX table) knowing that anything less than a comfortable win spells trouble for Nicolás Larcamón’s men. “La Fiera” currently sits outside of the playoff spots in 11th place (2-1-3) and a visit to Monterrey awaits on the other side of the FIFA break.

Pachuca is just 10 months removed from being hailed as Liga MX champions but the current Tuzos roster is unrecognizable.

After considerable overhaul in the locker room, coach Guillermo Almada has been forced to rely on academy resources (he has handed out four Liga MX debuts already). And although his rookies show great promise, there have been – and will continue to be – growing pains. Even as Almada has a deserved reputation for developing youngsters, he’ll have to prove it all over again this season if he hopes to guide Pachuca into the Liga MX playoffs.

The Hidalguenses have just one win thus far (1-3-2) and find themselves in 14th place. With a visit to fifth-place Toluca on tap for Sunday noon, the Tuzos can’t afford to settle for a draw and fall further off the pace.

‘Clásico Joven’ caps Saturday night schedule

A disheveled Cruz Azul side “welcomes” crosstown rivals América to Estadio Azteca for the 119th regular season “Junior Classic.”

The Cementeros climbed out of the Liga MX basement last week by claiming their first win of the season, while América sits in seventh place with a game in hand.

“La Máquina Azul” has had trouble generating offense and the Aguilas have been a mess at the back so this contest could be decided at the América end of the pitch.

In recognition of their sputtering attack, Cruz Azul acquired Querétaro’s leading scorer Ángel Sepúlveda who is likely to see some action before the final whistle.

As for “Los Azulcremas,” they welcome back Sebastián Cáceres (broken nose) who should help steady the last line of defense in front of under siege Luis Malagón.

América coach André Jardine will have to replace right back Kevin Álvarez (red-card suspension) but that might be a blessing in disguise since the offensive-minded El Tri star has been a liability at the back.

After the atrocious 0-1-4 start to the season, the Cementeros might try to paint a draw as a positive (two straight without a loss!) but such a result would keep them in the cellar with fading hopes of a Liga MX playoff berth.

Elsewhere in Liga MX

Sunday’s slate of games offers Liga MX fans an intriguing triple-header.

In  addition to the Toluca-Pachuca match, second-place Guadalajara hosts last season’s No. 1 seed Monterrey while first-place Atlético de San Luis welcomes fourth-place Atlas.

Guadalajara started the season hitting on all cylinders, winning its first three games in impressive fashion (including a 3-1 win over Atlético de San Luis). Then the Chivas face-planted at the Leagues Cup, failing to get out of the group stage, and has looked disorganized since, posting a 1-1-1 record. The lone win was a referee-aided 1-0 triumph over humble Tijuana.

Beset by injuries on the offensive side of the ball, the Rayados have lost two straight (including an embarrassing 2-1 home loss to Cruz Azul last weekend) and suddenly don’t look like the juggernaut that seemed destined to reach the Liga MX finals.

Monterrey will go into Estadio Akron looking to hold firm at the back and attack off the counter though coach Fernando Ortiz will not play for a draw. Guadalajara, for its part, must rediscover the spark it showed in the opening stages of the Apertura 2023.

Finally, San Luis has risen to the top of the table with a solid all-around game, competent finishing (a Liga MX-best 13 goals) and spectacular goalkeeping by first-year starter Diego Urtiaga.

Scoring might not be so easy against Atlas’ league-leading defense (3 goals allowed in six games), so the Tuneros must exhibit patience in attack, while maintaining its protective web in front of the 24-year-old Urtiaga.

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For its part, Atlas will seek to lull the Tuneros to sleep and catch them out on the counter with Jordi Caicedo leading from the point. The Zorros will be energized by the contributions of newcomers Augusto Solari and Diego Zapata, both of whom registered debut goals with the club to guide “Los Rojinegros” to a 2-1 win at Querétaro on Wednesday.