joe corona tijuana xolos
This version of the Mexican Liguilla playoffs looks wide open and could feature numerous upsets. Pachuca and America kick off the quarterfinals on Wednesday night, followed by Tijuana-Monterrey.
The Mexican Primera is always wild and unpredictable, but there's still a general hierarchy of teams. Even though any team can beat any other team on any given week, it's rare for a true underdog to make a run through Liguilla in which they knock off three superior teams consecutively. The 2011 Apertura saw a massive upset with Queretaro knocking off Chivas Guadalajara in the first round, but quality won out eventually. UANL Tigres, arguably a better team in the regular season than first-placed Chivas, beat a very good Santos Laguna team in the final.
The 2012 Clausura's version of Liguilla is a lot more wide open, and there is no Querataro. Jaguares Chiapas, the No. 8 seed, have a great manager in Jose Guadeloupe Cruz and players who have represented Mexico, Colombia, Uruguay and Chile internationally. The No. 7 seed, Tijuana, has a lot of financial backing and internationals from Mexico, Uruguay, Argentina and the United States.
At the same time, the top teams have shuffled throughout the season while dealing with CONCACAF Champions League and Copa Libertadores, as well as the usual injuries and suspensions. First place is only nine points above eighth. Second place is only four points above seventh. There are no underdogs in this version of Liguilla. The top three teams are the favorites, with the next two very close to them in quality, but the Nos. 6-8 seeds are not far behind at all.
As a reminder: There is no extra time and there are no penalties in the quarterfinals. In the event of a draw, the higher seed advances. The ties are played home and away, aggregate scoring, no away goals rule in effect.
No. 6 Pachuca vs. No. 3 Club America
Wednesday, 9:30 p.m. ET
Estudiantes Tecos once traded Mauro Cejas to Pachuca because they were willing to do anything to get a striker. They then got rid of that striker (Herculez Gomez). Mauro Cejas is now one of the best players in the Mexican Primera and Tecos is in the Liga de Ascenso. Mismanagement!
America won the regular season game between the two teams 1-0 at the Azteca, with Cristian Benitez scoring the winner. That sounds like a good performance by the Pachuca defense, but America did not have their main creative force, Daniel Montenegro, available for that match. However, it's worth noting that America still played with a back four at that point in the year. They've switched to a 3-4-3, and it'll be interesting to see how they match up with Pachuca, who will probably switch from a 4-4-2 to a 4-2-3-1 to create mismatches against the America defense.
No. 7 Tijuana vs. No. 2 Monterrey
Wednesday, 11:30 p.m. ET
When these teams met in January, Tijuana pulled off one of the biggest and most dramatic wins in their club's history, netting a 90th minute winner to defeat the Rayados 1-0. At that point in the year, strikers Humberto Suazo and Aldo de Nigris were M.I.A. and unfit, respectably. Now they're both fit and both playing well, and Monterrey are a completely different team.
Tijuana's attack hasn't been spectacular in the Clausura with Dayro Moreno back on loan in his native Colombia, but their defense has improved drastically. They have only allowed 11 goals, the lowest total in the league. Against a very attack-minded Monterrey side, they'll have to be spectacular.
No. 8 Jaguares Chiapas vs. No. 1 Santos Laguna
Thursday, 8:00 p.m. ET
Jaguares have the talent to beat any team in the Americas on any night, but they're probably going to meet their match with Santos. The eleventy billion-times runners-up in the Mexican Primera and CONCACAF Champions League runners-up are deep everywhere down the spine. They have more strikers than they know what to do with, they might have the best stable of central midfield players in Mexico, they rotate four central defenders, and their goalkeeper is the legendary Oswaldo Sanchez.
Profe Cruz's biggest hope for this match is that Benjamin Galindo gets his central defense pairing wrong, and Jackson Martinez makes him pay. Martinez is one of the best strikers in the Americas and has been linked to a Premier League move for good reason. Galindo doesn't seem to know what his best defense pairing is (in case he's reading this article, it's Felipe Baloy and Santiago Hoyos), and a small lapse in communication at the back will be a problem against a team with the firepower of Jaguares.
No. 5 UANL Tigres vs. No. 4 Monarcas Morelia
Thursday, 10:00 p.m. ET
TV: Univision Deportes
You know how television companies basically control professional sports leagues these days? Well, in FMF, the television companies literally control the league. Most of the teams are owned by television companies, so they have insane influence over everything. That allows them to do something like put a big playoff game on a channel like Univision Deportes that no one gets just so they can build up the brand of Univision Deportes.
Morelia are having a great season, but they didn't look good against UANL Tigres when the two sides met earlier this year. Tigres totally out-classed their opponents, winning 4-1 and holding them to just three shots. However, Morelia were hurt by an injury to Mauricio Romero in the middle of that match, when the score was locked up at 1-1. He recently returned to the lineup and the result might be different if Morelia can actually play with the same back line for 90 minutes.
For more on the Liguilla playoffs, head over to Mexican football blog FMF State Of Mind.