Liguilla: Monterrey, Cruz Azul take leads in respective cross-town quarterfinals

Higher seeds come away from first-leg road trips with significant advantages
Cruz Azul players celebrate after scoring against UNAM in their Liga MX quarterfinal series. The Cementeros won 2-0.
Cruz Azul players celebrate after scoring against UNAM in their Liga MX quarterfinal series. The Cementeros won 2-0. / Manuel Velasquez/GettyImages

Liga MX quarterfinals, first leg

Maxi Meza knocked home a shot that ricocheted off the left post to give visiting Monterrey a 2-1 lead over crosstown rivals Tigres in the first leg of their Liga MX quarterfinal series.

With the away-goals rule in effect, “Los felinos” will need to score at least two goals in Sunday’s second leg to advance to the semifinals.

In Thursday’s other quarterfinal series, Cruz Azul dominated UNAM but allowed the Pumas to stay alive thanks to some brilliant goalkeeping by Julio González.

The Cementeros could have won by 5 goals or more, but will settle for a 2-0 advantage when the Mexico City rivals meet again at the Estadio Azul on Sunday.

Rayados escape ‘El Volcán’ with hard-fought victory

This is the ninth time Liga MX fans have been treated to a “Clásico Regiomontano” in an elimination series and Thursday’s match lived up to the hype.

There were lovely passes, hard tackles, a golazo and even an end-of-game melee. 

Monterrey goalie Esteban Andrada was active early on, racing off his line several times in the first half to punch away centering passes. His defense also did yeoman’s work, preventing Tigres star André-Pierre Gignac from finding space to take aim at Andrade’s net.

In minute 28, Monterrey midfielder Jorge Rodríguez crossed up the Tigres back line with a nifty pass to Sergio Canales down the middle. The hosts had lost their defense shape and Canales was able to dribble past two retreating defenders before slotting home inside the left post.

The lead did not make it to halftime, however, as Tigres winger Diego Lainez gathered in a pass at the right sideline, dribbled horizontally across the top of the box eluding defenders then rifled a low left-footer that snuck past a diving Andrada. A golazo!

The Rayados reclaimed the lead just 3 minutes after the break when striker Brandon Vazquez spun past Samir Caetano, dribbled into the box and zipped a pass into the goal mouth that a sliding Canales got a foot on. The ball caromed off the left post just as Meza was closing in and the Argentine winger reacted quickly enough to redirect the ball into the net.

The 4th-seeded Rayados made the lead stand up in a rugged second half that saw Canales limp off in minute 70. His replacement, Rodrigo Aguirre, was the instigator of the fracas that erupted in minute 89.

Aguirre clattered into Javier Aquino and the Tigres fullback took exception, shoving the Monterrey player who shoved back, inciting a bench-clearing brouhaha. Order was restored and Aquino and Aguirre were admonished with yellow cards.

The series moves across town to the Estadio BBVA Bancomer where the Tigres must fashion a comeback if they hope to reach the Liga MX finals for a third straight season.

Cementeros put on powerful display

Coach Martín Anselmi revved up “La Máquina Azul” and Cruz Azul raced around the Estadio Olímpico Universitario, wreaking havoc all game long.

The 2nd-seeded Cementeros were dangerous on the counter for 90 minutes, but were punished for being too cute in front of goal.

UNAM keeper Julio González produced six huge saves – three of them on 1-v-1 situations within the box – but it was his error in minute 26 that helped Cruz Azul open the scoring.

González unwisely chased a harmless high cross into the box only to crash into teammate Adrián Aldrete. The ball popped free, Rodrigo Huescas collected it and dropped it backward into the path of Ignacio Rivero who blasted it into the net before González could recover.

After that, Cruz Azul put UNAM in a sleeper hold and lulled the Pumas with a patient, possession-first approach that slowed the game to pre-game walk-through pace.

The 7th-seeded Pumas chose not to press and that allowed Cruz Azul to yo-yo the ball around the back.

UNAM finally snapped out of the doldrums just before the half and spent several minutes swarming around the Cementeros’ box but to no avail.

In minute 57, Huescas gathered in a back pass from Rivero wide right, cut straight toward the box through two defenders and then wandering around like a Family Circus cartoon before dropping off to the onrushing Lorenzo Faravelli. Faravelli's low shot was deflected by Jesús Rivas, wrong-footing González and suddenly The Blue Machine led 2-0.

A few minutes later, Rivero would graze the outside of the right post but that was the closest the Cementeros would come to extending their lead as González made up for his first-half gaffe with timely saves, including three one-on-one blocks in a 10-minute period


The crosstown rivals will meet next at Estadio Azul on Sunday evening.