Liga MX semifinals: Atleti hosts streaking América in first-leg clash

Aguilas coach Jardine faces off with long-time disciple Leal
Atlético de San Luis has the tall task of slowing down the América attack led by Henry Martín.
Atlético de San Luis has the tall task of slowing down the América attack led by Henry Martín. / Leopoldo Smith/GettyImages

Atlético de San Luis welcomes América to the Estadio Alfonso Lastras as the Liga MX semifinals kick off tonight.

The underdog Tuneros have their work cut out for them as not only are the top-seeded Aguilas undefeated on the road this season (5-3-0 with 14 goals for, 7 goals against) but they are on an 18-game unbeaten streak.

Still, Atleti won’t be intimidated after upsetting No. 2 Monterrey to reach the Final Four with a disciplined tactical performance and a balanced attack. The Tuneros defeated the Rayados 1-0 at home before battling to a 1-1 draw in the Sultana del Norte

The 8th-seeded Potosinos know a tie will not be a satisfactory result at home (América’s higher seeding means an aggregate draw puts the Aguilas in the Final) so look for Gustavo Leal’s men to press forward while relying on a swarming defense.

San Luis return for Jardine

América coach André Jardine will be matching wits with his countryman Leal, a man who served as Jardine’s top bench coach with Brazil’s gold medal-winning Olympic team (Tokyo 2020) and at Atlético de San Luis.

Jardine took the Atleti job three games into the Clausura 2022 season and guided the club to its first-ever quarterfinals appearance. The team missed out on the playoffs by 1 point the following season then reached the quarterfinals again last season where they were eliminated by América (4-3 aggregate). Jardine posted a modest 18-14-22 record while in charge in San Luis.

Leal inherited the post this past summer when Jardine took the América job. This will be Jardine’s second trip back to San Luis as he guided the Aguilas to a 1-0 victory at the Alfonso Lastras in a Matchday 15 contest. Henry Martín scored the lone goal in minute 32. 

As for Jardine, he has enjoyed one of the best debut seasons in the history of Club América. The team's 40 points tops the 38 points earned by his two most recent predecessors Santiago Solari and Fernando Ortiz although the league-leading 37 goals scored was one fewer than that recorded by the Aguilas under Ortiz in the Apertura 2020 season.

After a 2-1 loss to lowly FC Juárez in the season opener (at home, no less), there was some grumbling throughout the Eagle's Nest, "los Azulcremas" have not lost a game since, compiling a 13-5-0 record, playoffs included.

Semifinals a familiar spot for Aguilas

Not only is América the lone Liga MX team to compete in each of the last 10 Liguillas (compared to just three appearances by Atlético de San Luis), but "Los Millonetas" are nearly a virtual lock to make it to the Final Four.

Since the Liga MX instituted the playoff system in 1972, América has participated in 41 semifinals series. This is fist-ever appearance in a semifinal for San Luis.

Of course, the Aguilas do not boast a scintillating record in the Final Four, advancing to the Finals just 17 times. That's less than half, a statistic that might give the Tuneros some measure of confidence.

Quiñones avoids suspension for obscene celebration

América's star winger Julián Quiñones was slapped with an undisclosed fine for his crude gesture after scoring the opening goal in his team's 2-0 win over León in their second-leg quarterfinals match.

Quiñones converted a penalty kick in minute 61 then ran toward the stands and grabbed his crotch.

Club officials also sanctioned Quiñones (to what end was not revealed, but they did publicly express disgust with the celebration) but were relieved to learn that the league did not suspend him.