The Wild and Wooly Liga Mexicana's post season starts tonight. The eight teams that have qualified for la fiesta grande have been paired into some tasty match-ups. Here in the US, one channel is leveraging the league's popularity in hopes of adding its newly christened sports channel to more content providers.
Don't bank on it, at least not for now.
Univision will be airing 3 of the 5 Quarter final games for which it has the rights on its shiny, new Univision Deportes Network. So far, the channel can only be seen on Dish. I don't have Dish, so I will have be resourceful in my methods to view the Liguilla. If not, I am going to miss some very decent games.
1. Santos vs 8. Jaguares Santos shook off the disappointment of falling short in the Concachampions to wrap up the top seed. Which may not be such a good thing: it has been many moons since a top seed has won the championship. Santos' fortunes will rest on their proven ability to score goals, lots and lots of goals. While Herculez Gomez has garnered his share of headlines stateside, Oribe Peralta has very quietly had an unbelievable year for Santos. He knocked in 13 goals in the Apertura, 7 in the CCL, and another 9 in the Clausura. The stealthiest 29 goals anyone has ever scored.
Jaguares will be a very tough out, and would like nothing more than two add to the legacy of the top seed curse. They certainly have the resume. The Chiapas squad has not lost a game in two months, and lean heavily on their Colombian triumvirate of Arizala, Martinez, and Rey. They have accounted for 19 of the team's 25 goals, with Martinez and Rey netting 8 apiece. Martinez, in particular, has bounced back from serious injury to take his place among the league's elite foreign players.
If anything, this tie will certainly be the most geographically diverse, playing in the Chiapan jungle before moving on to the Chihuahuan Desert.
Who wins? - Santos squeaks by with the higher seed tie-braker advantage.
2 Monterrery vs 7 Xolos de Tijuana It may not exactly be the immovable object vs the irresistable force, but a tie between the league's stingiest defense and an offensive juggernaut is as close as we'll get in Mexican futbol. Monterrey looks to be back to its old, dominant self after a less than mediocre Apertura and disappointing Club World Cup. Was it injuries or indifference that took its toll on a team who was in the midst of an unprecedented run of success? Probably a little of both. It all changed for Monterrey when Humberto Suazo rejoined the squad a few games in the Clausura coupled with the return to form of Aldo de Nigris. Monterrey on lost 3 times in the Clausura, as Victor Vucetich craftily handled two tournaments with the deepest team in the league.
The atmosphere at the Estadio Caliente will be, well, caliente tonight, as Xolos will be hosting their first ever Liguilla tie. The Aztec dogs' MVP in the Clausura has to be net minder Cirilo Saucedo, who put up 8 clean sheets and only gave up 11 goals in the Clausura. Tijuana's second season was such a success it put rest any relegation worries relatively early. If Xolos are to have a chance, Saucedo will have to come up big, like he did with Indios three years ago in their unlikely liguilla bid.
Who wins? Everything says Monterrey: the coach, the players, the history. So why I am having such a hard time typing the words? Rayados in classic squeaker.
3 Club America vs 6 Pachuca It was the best way could have bowed out. Temo blasted an unbelievable free kick in the C2007 finals vs Pachuca. Blanco was on his way to the Chicago Fire, and that goal put America in position to win the championship. Pachuca had the last laugh, though. Ever since then. America was embroiled in a seemingly never-ending, self-inflicted parade of suckitude. Bad personnel decisions, even worse coaching hires, and overall laughable team mis-management left Americanismo wallowing. The man responsible for the mess, Michel Bauer, mercifully stepped down. The front office's first move was to hire the very capable Miguel Herrera.
He made a big difference. The Aguilas finished in the top 3 for the first time in yonks. They have always had goal scorers, and this season is no different, Chucho Benitez got the lion's share. But Herrera focused on shoring up the back. True, America gave up 18 goals in the Clausura, but consider they allowed 31 in the previous Apertura.
Pachuca came into the 2011-12 season making more than a dozen and a half personnel moves in the "draft." It was no surprise that they struggled in the Apertura, and their coach, Efrain Flores, was on the short list of coaches most likely to lose their jobs. Pachuca plays very well as team that has no real stand-outs, at least not like they did when they enjoyed their own unprecedented run of success in the 2000's. Do, however, keep an eye on Marco Bueno. Liverpool is. The 18 year-old has that je ne sais quoi that natural-born goal scorer's possess.
Who wins? Pachuca has dominated America since its ascension in 1992, but Miguel Herrera has Club America playing well, and well enough to get by the Tuzos.
4 Morelia vs 5 Tigres After looking dominant for most of the season, the defending champs slipped somewhat on the back-stretch. They lost 3 of 4, starting with the Monterrey Derby. A team that once looked dominant, is now surrounded by a lot of questions. As unpredictable as the liguilla is, one corollary that is as safe a bet as any is how a team comes into the tournament. A sluggish month could spell doom for a team like Tigres, especially when one considers offensive struggles. They have to beat Morelia on aggregate to advance, which might be a problem for a team with offensive limitations. Everything runs through Lucas Lobos, who led the team with 8 goals.
Morelia has not fared much better in the last month, winning only once in five (incuding a 4-1 thumping by Tigres). I(t didn't help Morelia lost their leading scorer, Miguel Sabah, to injury. They do, however have a real tasty intangible: Their coach, Tomas Boy, was Tigres' captain when Tigres won their first title in 1978. He studied at the UANL, and he is in Tigres' Hall of Fame. Some say he had a falling out with his former club, and if that is indeed the case, well... you can finish the sentence.
Morelia possesses the rarest of offenses in Mexican futbol: an all Mexican trio of attackers - Sabah, Gerardo Lugo, and Rafael Marquez Lugo. The three have combined to score 17 of Morelia's 25 goals this season, with Sabah getting 9 of them, despite missing the last three games. He is expected to be back.
Who wins? Tigres' usually solid defense has proven to be more vulnerable in the Clausura. Morelia gets a big boost with the return of their gunslinger who has a history of coming up big. He will do so again, and the defending champs are knocked out.
SCHEDULE - All times Central
Wed., May 2 8:30 p.m. Pachuca vs. Club America (Telefutura) 10:30 p.m. Xolos Tijuana vs. Monterrey (Azteca)
Thu., May 3 7 p.m. Chiapas vs. Santos Laguna (Azteca) 9 p.m. Tigres vs. Morelia (Univision Deportes)
Sat., May 5 6 p.m. Club America vs. Pachuca (Telefutura) 8 p.m. Monterrey vs. Xolos Tijuana (Univision Deportes)
Sun., May 6 6 p.m. Santos Laguna vs. Chiapas (Univision Deportes) 8 p.m. Morelia vs. Tigres (Azteca)