Handicapping the Mexican Liguilla is a Fool’s Errand – Sounds Like a Challenge

Pachuca is poised to win their 6th title

It’s Liguilla time again. Over the next three weeks, 8 teams will be pared to down to one champion. The Mexican Primera is always up to its trompo in surprises. The liguilla is no different. If recent history is any indication, the top seed does not survive for very long. This year’s Liguilla makes news by the teams that aren’t in the party. For the first time in who knows how long, neither Chivas nor America nor Cruz Azul are in.

Top seeds fall victim at the most inopportune moment. In the Clausura 08 Liguilla, the top seeded Chivas were done in by an out of nowhere Jared Borgetti hat trick. Santos had the easily the best team in the the 2007 clausura, but could not overcome a rash of early goals in their 1st leg at UNAM. Pumas, the only team to repeat as champs in the short season seasons, had to do it hard way the second time around: as an 8 seed.

But history may not weigh as heavily this time around. The last #1 that won the tournament: Pachuca – who is #1 again. The last three tournaments have been won by the #2 seed, which falls to Toluca – the defending champs. The rest of the contenders (in order of seed) UNAM, Monterrey, Puebla, Tecos, Indios, Jaguares.

The least deserving: Jaguares. The dayglo-clad jungle warriors from Chiapas started the season strongly, but have not won in 6 weeks. That included a 5-1 thumping at the hands of their quarterfinal opponent: Pachuca. Jaguares are only in the Liguilla because they were the least awful member of group 3. They stand 12th in the table, yet second in their group. Their reward: another likely thumping.

The Dark Horses: Puebla. La Franja were indeed in a relegation battle, but it does not change the fact that they had an excellent Clausura. Led by a couple of reinvigorated former MLSers (Daviño, Osorno), an indefatigable midfielder who may have played his way onto the Tri (Noriega), and an emotionally charged coach (chelis), Puebla has nothing but house money to lose. They are just the kind of team that can make deep run.

Playing behind closed doors seemed to actually help tecos. Then, it seems, they don’t have to worry about the embarrassment of playing in front of vacant stands. They are the very definition of an under the radar team. They have a great goal keeper in Corona, and one of the best servers in MFL History in Rodrigo Ruiz. They nicked Pumas 2-0 just last week, and get them again behind closed doors.

The stingiest: That would be my Pumas. They allowed a liguilla low 1 goal per game. And thank god, because they socre that many more. I am one to think that Pumas has more scoring punch on the bench than they do on the field. They have to find it somewhere if they want to advance.

Who’s hot: Indios. They had to win their last three games to make it in. They did. They will give the defending champs a full 180 minutes before bowing out. And then they get to do it all over again next year.

Who’s not: Monterrey.
Ahh Monterrey, why do you tease your fans so? Rayados limp into the tournament after losing two straight, and that was after winning two straight. So which Monterrey shows up? Who knows? They have what it takes to win the whole thing, but they also have the capacity to crash out spectacularly.

The contenders: The top two teams, Pachuca and Toluca, should have no problem meeting up in the final. They each have efficient attacks. The chorizeros boast the top goal scorer (Hector Mancilla), the top assist man (Carlos Esquivel). Pachuca spreads it out a little more to the tune of 42 goals. Toluca has a better back line and a better goal-keeper, but it was Pachuca that won the season tie.

So who will emerge with the trophy? If I were a betting man, I would put a line on Toluca. But I also know that only a fool would bet on Mexican footie. Does Caesar’s take bets on the MFL?