The regular season of Liga MX’s Apertura 2016 tournament came to a close this past weekend. Now the stage is set for a champion of Mexican soccer to be crowned over the coming weeks.
After a regular season consisting of 17 matches (every team facing each other once), the top eight teams in the league table advance to the playoffs. The remaining 10 clubs are eliminated and await the beginning of the Clausura 2017 preseason.
The first leg of the quarterfinal matches will be played on Wednesday and Thursday and the return legs will conclude each home-and-home series on Saturday (for the Wednesday games) and Sunday (for the Thursday games).
In the event that Club América advances to the finals, the playoffs will be extended to December 25 due to América’s participation in the 2016 FIFA Club World Cup as the reigning CONCACAF champion.
CF Pachuca are the reigning Liga MX champion, defending their Clausura 2016 title.
Here are the matches and schedule for the quarterfinal bouts:
1 Tijuana vs. 8 León
Wednesday, 7:30 p.m. CT at Estadio León, León, Guanajuato [Univision Deportes Network]
Saturday, 9 p.m. CT at Estadio Caliente, Tijuana, Baja California [Azteca]
Tijuana are deservedly the top of the table after holding that spot for 12 out of the 17 matchdays under the management of Miguel “Piojo” Herrera. It has been over a year since the former Mexico national team coach took over for the bordertown club and, despite his off field problems that cost him the job at El Tri, Herrera has shown why he’s one of the top coaches in Mexico.
Los Xolos finished tied with Tigres for the least amount of goals conceded with 13, down half from their 26 goals conceded during the Clausura 2016 tournament. They also managed to finish as the top-seed despite a 2-1 loss at Veracruz this past weekend, a match they were looking to at least come away with a draw to secure that #1 seed.
Their reward? How about the hottest team coming into the liguilla in Club León?
Los Panzas Verdes (green bellies) clinched their spot in the playoffs on the final matchday and are riding a 10-match unbeaten streak.
León’s Argentine coach Javier Torrente took over a team that was last place in the league when he was brought in to right the ship after the team could not find results under Mexico’s Olympic winning coach Luis Fernando Tena? But forget the managerial bout between Herrera and Torrente because this series will feature two of the top scorers in Liga MX.
Tijuana’s Dayro Moreno finished tied for the golden boot with 11 goals this season but León’s Mauro Boselli is no slouch. Boselli finished this tournament with 10 goals (his 5th season of the last seven finishing among the top five goalscorers) and has previously won the golden boot on two occasions.
Pachuca vs. Necaxa
Thursday, 7:30 p.m. CT at Estadio Victoria, Aguascalientes, Aguascalientes [Univision Deportes Network]
Sunday, 8:06 p.m. CT at Estadio Hidalgo, Pachuca, Hidalgo [Univision Deportes Network]
The reigning Liga MX champion vs. the reigning Ascenso MX champion. This is a rarity given that the second division club promoted to the top-flight doesn’t usually qualify to the playoffs right away, nevertheless find themselves facing the defending champion.
First, let’s talk about the champ. Pachuca immediately hit the ground running and had no title-hangover to start the season, they were top of the table for the first three weeks and second for nine of the following 15 matchdays.
Los Tuzos scored a season-high 36 goals, making them the most explosive offense and two of their most important players are under the age of 23: Rodolfo Pizzaro and Hirving “Chucky” Lozano. This is a young team that has already proven they can get it done.
So why do we hear thunder? (Necaxa are nicknamed Los Rayos/The Bolts)
Necaxa are by no means your typical promoted team. They’ve been in the top-flight before and were at the height of Mexican soccer during the 1990s: winning three league titles, a CONCACAF Champions Cup and finishing third in the 2000 version of the FIFA Club World Cup.
Yes, Necaxa’s better days are behind them but the owners have invested effectively to return to the top flight with intentions of staying for good. Their biggest threat is arguably winger Edson Puch, who was part of Chile’s Copa America Centenario winning team this past summer.
Necaxa’s season is a success for making the playoffs and no one expects much of them against a team like Pachuca, and that is what makes them dangerous.
Tigres UANL vs. Pumas UNAM
Wednesday, 9:30 p.m. CT at Estadio Olimpico Universitario, Mexico City [Univision Deportes Network]
Saturday, 7 p.m. CT at Estadio Universitario, San Nicolás de los Garza, Nuevo León [Univision Deportes Network]
The two “university teams” face off in what is a matchup of a veteran head coach in Tigres’ Ricardo “Tuca” Ferretti and first-year head coach, former Mexican national team star Francisco Palencia.
The biggest headline grabber is Tigres’ budget. With French forwards André-Pierre Gignac and Andy Delort, Argentina goalkeeper Nahuel Guzmán, and longtime Mexican league standouts in Damián Álvarez, Javier Aquino and Jorge Torres Nilo, Tigres fields the most expensive team in Liga MX.
We know money doesn’t necessarily translate to championships but if Tigres don’t win, they’ll be criticized accordingly.
Pumas on the other hand aren’t as pressured to win this season but that doesn’t mean they’re not trying to. They are a proud franchise that remind themselves their last title was in Clausura 2011, five years ago.
‘Paco’ Palencia is the 7th coach since 2012 in the revolving door of coaches at UNAM, all the others let go because of that pressure to win a championship. Forwards Eduardo Herrera and Matías Britos are the players to watch for Pumas.
For added storylines, “Tuca” Ferretti was the head coach at Pumas from 2006-10, bringing them the Clausura 2009 title, and Francisco Palencia was one of his players during that time.
Guadalajara vs. América
Thursday, 9:30 p.m. CT at Estadio Azteca, Mexico City [Univision Deportes Network]
Sunday, 6:06 p.m. CT at Estadio Chivas, Guadalajara, Jalisco [Univision Deportes Network]
Well this is going to be the most boring matchup out of all four, right? *Sarcasm
There’s no secret why this is the last match on the schedule. The Clásico Nacional always gets the attention of the entire country and there is never any love loss between these two sides.
América is celebrating their 100th anniversary and the league championship is a must. Former Mexico national team and also former Guadalajara coach Ricardo La Volpe was brought in midseason because Ignacio Ambriz’s tactics and playing style were not convincing, despite having the team in 4th place.
With an attack led by names like Oribe Peralta, Darwin Quintero, Rubens Sambueza, more is expected at América. The term championship or bust could not be more fitting, especially this season where the perfect ending is almost and obligation.
So what better way to modify the script than to write in a playoff series with their most hated rival.
Chivas finished 4th in the league table and are just over the one-year anniversary of Matías Almeyda at the helm of the club. The Argentine coach has instilled stability and a purpose of play to a historic club who, believe it or not, were worried about relegation just a year ago.
Chivas defeated América 3-0 at the Azteca in league play back in late August and later eliminated Las Águilas in the Copa MX semifinals on penalties in late October.
The players to watch for Chivas are midfielders Orbelín Pineda, Isaác Brizuela and forward Alan Pulido.
This is Yankees-Red Sox, Lakers-Celtics, it doesn’t get bigger than this.
Victor Araiza is an independent writer who has covered MLS, Liga MX and international soccer as an accredited media member since 2011. Any opinion expressed by Victor Araiza is not necessarily reflective of that of Soccer Matters and/or Glenn Davis.