Heavyweights Poised to Claim Mexican Apertura Crown

Humberto Suazo hopes to lead Monterrey past America

It is liguilla time in Mexico again.

First a quick word on who didn’t make it. Chivas is a mess. 3 coaches, and one general manager later, and they still missed out on the post season. Pumas found magma in the hole they dug for themselves to start the season. And finally, Ricardo La Volpe added another failed campaign to his losng list of misery in Mexican footie. Atlas had enough, and now he’s gone.

I also need to offer a retraction. A few weeks ago, I blasted FEMEXFUT for its goofy playoff and group setup. I believed that (as in year’s past) the two best third place teams would advance, possibly leaving out a more deserving team. Well, this year the top two in each group, and two best teams regardless of group position made the liguilla. My apologies.

Of the 8 teams that made it, 4 teams seem to stand out as genuine title contenders. Two of them, Club America and Monterrey, play each other in the most intriguing of quarter final match ups.

Chucho Ramirez is certainly not the most popular coach in the americanismo. A lot of folks question his tactics, his substitutions, even his intestinal fortitude. Apparently, it’s only a matter of time before he cracks under the pressure. And yet, despite this unbearable tension, he has managed to get America to the post season for the first time since a certain Mr. Blanco was on the team. How did he do it? America has gone for substance over style, and so far it has worked. He also shored up the back-line enough to convert America into one of the best defenses in the league.

Humberto Suazo leads Rayados’ powerful attack, but the key to the game will be how Aldo de Nigris handles his emotions in the first game after his brother’s tragic death. Rayados will also be without Luis Perez, which might be a good thing after all.

Another contender should, in theory, have no problem advancing. Toluca faces San Luis in the quarters. San Luis is lucky to have been in such a crappy group, because that’s the only way they are still alive. The chorizeros, on the other hand, finished atop the league table, have solid lines throughout the field, and have the best depth in the league. If Chilean international, Hector Mancilla, can’t shake off his recent injuries, young Raul Nava can fill in quite nicely. They are the most complete team in the league.

The last contender plays the eternal dark horse in another match-up. A good way to handicap the liguilla is to see which team comes in hot. Last year, Indios, Puebla, and Pumas were all ablaze, and all made it to the semis. This year, Cruz Azul is the team on fire. They have won 4 in row, and 5 of their last 6. The league’s leading scorer, Emanuel Villa, scored 7 goals in that stretch, including 2 in a 4-0 romp over their QF opponents, Puebla.

Puebla has to be taken seriously, if only because we all know that the players will not quit. A testament to how much they do not want to disappoint their coach, Jose Luis Sanchez Sola, el Chelis. Cruz Azul should win, but it will be 180 minutes of hell.

The last matchup may well be the most entertaining one. Morelia and Santos both have played a very entertaining brand of footie this season. They have scored a lot of goals. The problem for Santos is that they gave given up almost just as many, while Morelia has the stingiest defense in the liguilla. But it wouldn’t be a Mexican liguilla without upsets, and Santos has the kind of team that can knock off a higher seed.

Remember, in the first two rounds of the liguilla, the lower seed has to win the aggregate outright, while all the higher seed has to do is tie to advance. That said, I expect America, Toluca, Cruz Azul and Santos to all advance.