Liga MX: Top two seeds set sights on semifinals

No. 1 América and No. 2 Monterrey face tough second-leg tests

León will have to stop Henry Martín. The Aguilas captain score both America goals in Wednesday's 2-2 draw at León
León will have to stop Henry Martín. The Aguilas captain score both America goals in Wednesday's 2-2 draw at León / Manuel Guadarrama/GettyImages
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The first two Liga MX semifinalists will be determined tonight as 8th-seeded León visits top-seeded America and No. 2 Monterrey plays host to No. 7 Atlético de San Luis.

At Estadio Azteca in the Saturday night opener, the Aguilas need only a draw to reach the Final Four while the lower-ranked Esmeraldas must come up with a victory after the two sides played to a 2-2 draw at the Camp Nou on Wednesday. 

In the nightcap, the underdog Tuneros can push Monterrey coach Fernando Ortiz into dangerous ground if they manage to get past the favored Rayados. 

San Luis defeated the Northern Giants 1-0 on Wednesday, so they can advance with a draw or another win while Monterrey must win to keep their title hopes alive. There have been reports that Ortiz will be canned if the Rayados come up short again this season.

America coach concerned about officiating

André Jardine admitted to reporters that he is worried about being adversely affected by the refs, and perhaps with good reason.

Each of the first-leg quarterfinals matches offered coaches – and critics – plenty of opportunities to complain about the refereeing: a hand ball that wasn’t called in the Chivas-Pumas match, the lack of yellow cards in the early stages of the Puebla-Tigres game.

While coach Jardine has a fair point – León winger Nico López should have been shown a second yellow in the first leg – America also seemed to benefit from the questionable officiating that has plagued Liga MX for some time now.

On the Aguilas’ first goal against León, Henry Martín appeared to be in an offside position when Miguel Layún sent in his cross although video evidence was inconclusive.

But the Brazilian manager also leaned into the dubious narrative that America is more frequently on the wrong side of errant whistles. This claim is based on the argument that commentators and media, in general (certainly not Televisa which also owns America), tend to be biased against the powerful club which is always near the top of the league in payroll.

Quiñones worry dismissed

Late in Wednesday’s first-leg match, America winger Julián Quiñones asked off with what appeared to be a thigh complaint, setting off alarm bells.

Since joining the Aguilas after Matchday 2, JQ has contributed 6 goals and 5 assists in 14 appearances with “Los AzulCremas.” And with top playmaker Diego Valdés just back after a five-game absence, there was anxiety in the America clubhouse.

On Friday, the Aguilas injury report did not include Quiñones and club officials revealed that the naturalized Mexican had been subbed out as a precaution. So … nothing to see here.

Pressure on Monterrey and its manager

Coach Ortiz knows his days might be numbered if the Rayados don’t find a way to get past the spunky Tuneros.

Monterrey has suffered through an injury-plagued season but still managed to finish with the second-best record in Liga MX. Midfield general Sergio Canales – the club signed the former Real Madrid captain in July – was lost after Matchday 9 just as he was adapting to Liga MX. 

Star forward Germán Berterame is still trying to rediscover his form after missing nine games with a knee injury and top sub Rodrigo Aguirre made his first appearance since missing the final six games of the season and 12 overall.

Despite the legitimate excuses, management wants league title No. 6 and will likely not accept anything less than a finals appearance. The deep-pocketed franchise has produced a talented locker room, end roster depth certainly helped the Rayados stay near the top of the table.

Monterrey finished the Clausura 2023 as the No. 1 seed but was bounced in the semifinals by crosstown rivals Tigres, a loss that prompted the firing of Víctor Manuel Vucetich

So Ortiz was brought in – stolen from América, in fact, in a stunning move – and the 45-year-old Argentine manager is under considerable pressure to guide the Rayados toward new hardware.