The worst kept secret in Mexican soccer was made public this week. No, not the fact that Miguel Herrera and Ricardo Pelaez were ratified by FMF to spearhead Mexico’s World Cup campaign. The fact that the Liga MX “rules” and “bylaws” don’t necessarily apply to the League’s 800 lb gorillas.
In case you missed it, Atlas, the much maligned Guadalajara Club, the one who last won a league title more than 60 years ago, were bought out by TV Azteca. No big surprise, right. Ahhh, but the Liga MX “bylaws” state that an entity cannot own more than one team.
It might have a new name and logo, but it is still the same ol’ Mexican footy.
I have not had a chance to write much about the local league this season, as is normally the case during college football season. I did, however get to watch the second legs of the Liga MX quarterfinals. After seeing how bad the national team had played throughout the course of the year, it was refreshing to see good teams play good soccer. And with 3 of the top 4 seeds advancing (as well as the 5th seed), it sets the stage for some mouth-watering semi-finals. Toluca v America - 7:00 pm CT (Univision Family of Networks) Leon v Santos - 9:00 pm CT (Telemundo)
As far as history and tradition, it does not get any bigger than Club America and Toluca. Two of the three most decorated teams in league history have more than 20 league crowns between them. The defending champs shook off the effects of the transpacific trip enough to hold off Tigres in the first round, while the Red Devils had no problem dispatching Cruz Azul.
Not to be outdone, though, the other tie matches two sides that are extremely well coached and play a thoroughly entertaining brand of soccer. Santos Laguna and Leon reached the semi-finals with emphatic wins in the quarterfinals. In total, they sent 13 balls into the back of the net over the course of four games.
So who advances to the final?
Club America has dominated the league from the outset, but have slowed down somewhat. Despite the slight drop in form, the mission to repeat as champs is their fuel cell. How important is it for them to repeat. National team coach, Miguel Herrera is skipping the trip to Bahia to stay with his club side.
It is hard to call Toluca’s season with their new coach, and former mega-star, Jose Cardozo, a surprise. Toluca has been the most consistent side in Mexico since the turn of the millennium. It doesn’t hurt that they swing for the fences and connect with their striker signings. Their latest jackpot was another Paraguayan – Pablo Velazquez. His 12 goals led the league.
As we all know, the deeper teams go into a tournament, the less risk they are willing to assume. So which striker will have steely resolve to capitalize on the diminishing scoring opportunities? Qualifying hero, and rising superstar, Raul Jimenez, has proven he can respond when the spotlight burns brightest and the pressure is at its most suffocating. San Raul adds to his already impressive resume as he carries Club America to the final.
Much was made of the fact that the majority of Mexico’s for their playoff vs the Kiwis came from Club America. Lost, though, was the fact that the most consistent performers were Oribe Peralta and Carlos “el Gullit” Peña. Those two square off in the other, very meaty semi-final. Let’s tuck in.
Both sides are extremely well coached. The green bellies are led by the Uruguayan Gustavo Matosas, while Portuguese coach Pedro Caixinha has been at the helm for Santos for the past few years. Leon’s style of play might be the most attractive in Liga MX, which makes them the neutral’s favorite. Leon plays more of team game and has several players who can score from anywhere in the final third. Nonetheless, they added a solid striker to an already robust attack in Mauro Boselli. The results speak for themselves.
Santos’ offense, on the other hand, has been well documented in this space. They may not be as explosive as “la Fiera”, but they have probably the hottest player in Mexico in Peralta scoring goals and setting them up. In addition to Peralta, the Torreon side can count on the goal scientist, Carlos Darwin Quintero, whose 4 goals are the most in the Liguilla so far.
With so much firepower on both sides, a tie like this may well be decided by the guy who prevents goals, not scores them. The edge in the goal-keeping department, then, falls to Santos.
Along with a clutch scorer in Peralta, Santos has a clutch netminder in Oswaldo Sanchez. The 40-year old has a lifetime of liguillas and a handful of trophies to fall back on. His counterpart, William Yarbrough, will be playing the biggest game of his young career.
The ingredients are all there for this tie to be an instant classic. Good players, good coaches, and great atmospheres. It is hard to bet against Peralta, though, whose last hot streak ended in a title for Santos and a Gold Medal for Mexico.