Liga MX trophy chase gets under way in earnest

Favorites América kick off quarterfinals with visit to León
Pumas UNAM v Chivas - Torneo Apertura 2023 Liga MX
Pumas UNAM v Chivas - Torneo Apertura 2023 Liga MX / Hector Vivas/GettyImages

After a dominant regular season, top-seeded América travels to No. 8 León as it begins its quest for the club's 14th Liga MX title in the first of four first-leg quarterfinals clashes in the next two days.

The Aguilas carry a 16-game unbeaten streak into the Camp Nou tonight and the Mexico City giants are further boosted by the return of playmaker Diego Valdés who was out injured for the final five games of the season. The 29-year-old Chilean led América with 6 goals despite missing seven of the team's 17 games.

León scraped into the quarterfinals by surviving the first-ever Liga MX Play-In Tournament (modeled after the NBA format), losing at No. 7 Atlético de San Luis in the first round before holding off No. 9 Santos Laguna on Sunday.

These two franchises have met in the playoffs five times with the Esmeraldas holding a slim 3-2 advantage. Their most recent postseason clash came in May 2019 with "La Fiera" knocking out the Aguilas based on a higher seed after each team posted 1-0 wins at home.

The two rivals played to a 1-1 draw at Estadio Azteca back on Aug. 26 with former Aguilas forward Federico Viñas scoring for León.

In Wednesday's other quarterfinals pairing, No. 2 seeds Monterrey pay a visit to 7th-seeded Atlético de San Luis. These two faced each other back on Matchday 1 with visiting Monterrey coming away with a 1-1 draw.

The Tuneros and Rayados have met only once before in the Liga MX playoffs. That encounter came back May 2022 in a wildcard match and ended with San Luis advancing in an upset. The game ended in a 2-2 tie then Tuneros goalie Marcelo Barovero – a former Rayado – came up with two big stops during the penalty shootout.

The other two quarterfinal series will kick off on Thursday. No. 6 seed Puebla will play host to No. 3 Tigres which will be followed by the most attractive match-up as 4th-seeded UNAM travels to Guadalajara to do battle with the 5th-seeded Chivas.

Liga MX fans will remember that UNAM defeated Guadalajara 1-0 in a thrilling season finale that allowed the Pumas to leap-frog over the Chivas to claim the No. 4 seed. However, Guadalajara holds a slight 3-2 advantage over "Los universitarios" in playoff meetings.