Monterrey's Jesus "Cabrito" Arellano wants to lift the trophy one more time before before he retires
It's Liguilla time in the MFL. It is the most unpredictable exercise in an unpredictable league. Conventional wisdom takes a three week beat-down, and when the dust settles, a team that was left for dead a month ago, might find itself under the mandatory confetti shower with trophy lifted high over their heads. Such is the nature of an 8 team playoff in an 18 team league.
Despite the fact that the top 8 teams in the table are in the post-season, the MFL is dogged in their insistence to keep the group system as a means to qualify. Perhaps it was coincidence that all 8 teams are in. If group play doesn't really afford teams any added incentives, it might be time to do away with them.
Monterrey are the defending champions and top team in the Bicentenario 2010. They should be favorites, but the top team usually fares badly in Liguillas. The last top seed to win was Pachuca in the C07. Lately, it has been more common for the top seed to get bounced in the first round than it is for them to win it all. Rayados have had a great season, made even more impressive considering that they lost their top player, Humberto Suazo, to Spain and his strike partner, Aldo de Nigris, to injury.
Rayados have been able to maintain their winning ways thanks to their kids, particular Abraham Carreño, who has filled in ably in the attack. The young Mexican has tallied 7 goals so far.
It is refreshing to see teams actually look to their own systems instead of bringing in foreign mercenaries. Monterrey put faith in their youngsters and they responded. If Monterrey are to repeat, it would be nice to see other teams copy their formula.
Another team who has had success with their home-grown players is Chivas. Guadalajara was crippled by the loss of 5 starters to national team duty. After winning their first 8 games, they only managed 8 more points from their next next 9 and haven't won since they lost their Tri players.
Such a slide can leave Chivas fans no hope of advancing. A painful reality, especially after such a hot start. But a glimmer of hope revealed itself at midweek as Chivas trounced Velez in a Libertadores tie. Teams have turned their fortunes around with less.
A slow start by Toluca left them on the outside looking in for most of the season. The chorizeros turned their season around by winning 6 of their last 7 games. Teams that come in hot usually do very well in Liguillas, which makes Toluca a candidate to win another championship. And they didn't lose anyone to national team duty... yet. They might be without the Chilean Hector Mancilla if they make it to the final.
Pumas lost their 3 best players to Mexico duty, and it shows. But it seems like Tuca Ferretti was expecting that and has reconfigured Pumas as a more defensive team. UNAM have allowed the fewest goals in the tourney with 10. It's the goal scoring where they need help. And let's not forget, ties are as good as wins to the higher seeded team.
Santos are one of the most consistent teams in the MFL and are always a threat to take the title. They have the player with the best nickname in footie: Carlos Darwin Quintero -- The Goal Scientist. It helps that the Colombian is pretty good too.
Club America barely fell into the Liguilla after a tough season. They managed to overcome the devastating loss of their best player, Salvador Cabañas. No one is really expecting much from the Cremas, and their coach is likely auditioning to keep his job. Sounds like a perfect storm to make a deep liguilla run to me.
Morelia is another team that is going backwards as the liguilla is set to begin. The purepechas had very disappointing performance in the Copa Libertadores, and the stench left behind from that tournament has started to collect and multiply in the Estadio Morelos. But they do face a Chivas team that they swamped 3-0 a few weeks ago at the Jalisco.
The last team in the Liguilla is probably the one that has the most momentum. Pachuca has had an uneven campaign. They lost 3 games in row by three goals and gave up 26 overall. Despite that, they still managed to steal the Concacaf Champions Cup from Cruz Azul with a stoppage time stunner this past Wednesday. It is the Concachampions title for the Tuzos in the past 4 years.
It was Cruz Azul's 5th consecutive finals defeat.
Here is the line up for this weekend's games:
Pachuca - Monterrey 5PM CDT
Chivas - Morelia 7PM CDT
Santos - Pumas 7PM CDT
America - Toluca 9PM CDT
2nd legs next weekend.
On a personal note, I hope to be blogging much more as we head toward the World Cup. The past few weeks have been tough for me as I was "on assignment" for bigsoccer, in addition to my day gig. But I will make a point to be much more active in the coming weeks.
Thanks to all of you for taking the time to read and comment.