Can defending champs overcome playoff bogeyman, off-field distractions?

América opens Liga MX title defense vs Pachuca club that has become postseason nemesis
América will have to find a way around Pachuca's Carlos Moreno if the Aguilas are to repeat as Liga MX champions.
América will have to find a way around Pachuca's Carlos Moreno if the Aguilas are to repeat as Liga MX champions. / YURI CORTEZ/GettyImages

Top-seeded América is poised to defend the Liga MX crown it is wearing, but to do so they will first have to get past playoff nemesis Pachuca.

The Aguilas cruised to their league-record 14th title last season – also as the No. 1 seed – outscoring opponents 13-5.

The champs then marched to the top of the Liga MX table midway through the Clausura 2024 season and stayed there, guaranteeing that they’ll finish at Estadio Azteca in each playoff series they compete in.

And with an undefeated (5-2-0) record at the “Coloso de Santa Úrsula” and a 15-5 goal differentially, “los Azulcremas” would seem to be sitting pretty.

Do Liga MX champs suffer from Tuzo-phobia?

América was 4-2-0 and had allowed just one goal when they paid a visit to Pachuca on Matchday 7. They limped home with a 2-1 loss and no longer looked invincible.

Of course, they then went on an 8-game unbeaten streak in the league and cruised to a spot in the Concacaf Champions Cup semifinals where … they were paired with Pachuca.

Once again, the Tuzos stunned the Kings of the Liga MX hill, eliminating the Aguilas on a 3-2 aggregate scoreline.

Pachuca is one of the few Liga MX teams with a winning record against América. The Tuzos are 27-17-22 in the regular season (with a slim 102-99 goal differential).

However, Pachuca has truly dominated the Aguilas in the playoffs, knocking out the high-flying Mexico City club five times in six postseason meetings.

Will this time around be different?

One advantage for América is that Pachuca’s frisky winger Oussama Idrissi is suspended for tonight’s first leg.

On the other hand, the Aguilas have quite a few off-field distractions.

Of contract talks and chat boys

Skipper Henry Martín has been moving up América’s all-time scoring list. “La Bomba” is in heady historical company after once again leading the Aguilas in scoring. Martín is now No. 6 on the all-time list and he could climb all alone into fifth with four goals in the Liguilla.

However, it’s fair to wonder if the captain is fully focused since he and the club are in a contract dispute.

Martín desperately wants to continue with the Liga MX giants and he has asked for a pay raise, but the club is wary of giving a 31-year-old striker a long-term deal. Last week, management gave him an unwelcome take-it-or-leave-it ultimatum. 

Martín is a true professional, but one wonders if his concentration will be affected.

The same is true for a pair of defenders who have become social media darlings.

Igor Lichnovsky and Kevin Álvarez have joined forced with former Aguila Miguel Layún to create a very popular podcast.

After the disastrous elimination in the Champions Cup, management decided to crack down on the podcast, telling Igor and Kevin that it is time to focus on the playoffs.

Álvarez was quick to toe the line (though not a full-time starter, he is desperate to win a spot with El Tri so he couldn’t afford to be seen as a malcontent), but Igor responded petulantly.

With the weekend off while the Liga MX Play-In Tournament took place, Lichnovsky recruited another América defender to go to the Miami Grand Prix.

The front office did not provide a public reaction, nor did coach André Jardine offer a response, but the media was fanning the flames with one commentator posing the question: Do you want to be influencers or footballers?

Best Liga MX defender sidelined

Making matters worse, América will be without All-Star back-liner Sebastián Cáceres who had season-ending surgery on his right knee last week. 

The Uruguayan hardman suffered the injury against Pachuca in the Concacaf Champions Cup, forced out just 4 minutes into the match.

Uruguay was relieved to find out that the surgery was successful and doctors say he can resume training in six weeks, a timeline that should allow him to return in time for the Copa América this summer.


The Aguilas, however, will have to defend their Liga MX crown without their best defender.