Nothing in Mexican soccer is predictable except its unpredictability. The top four seeds in the tournament all lost out in the first round but all four series were actually entertaining.
1.) Monarcas returns. It’s crazy to think that it was only a year and a half ago that Raúl Ruidíaz saved Morelia from relegation with a stoppage time goal in the last game of the season and now Monarcas is in the Liguilla semifinals. Few believed they would get a result against León, especially going back to the Nou Camp for the second leg having conceded three at Estadio Morelos.
This series exhibited both the best and worst of Mexican soccer. In Morelia, the match was stopped several times and at one point players were even pulled off of the pitch due to repeated use of the goalkeeper chant. It got ugly when fans started chanting an even more vile homophobic slur, but there were people in the crowd actively trying to suppress people from joining in. And in León, a Morelia fan in a Scooby Doo costume was being harassed by the police until the fans around him, a good number of which were León fans, came to his defense. He was allowed to remain and see his Monarcas get a thrilling win.
It’s going to be easy to write them off against Club América, but the pressure is squarely on Las Águilas to get a result. Monarcas knows they’re playing with house money, and whatever they accomplish from here on out is a bonus.
2.) Piojo gets one on Tuca. It’s often a fool’s errand to simply ascribe a team’s successes or failures solely to the manager. There are so many variables that go into wins and losses over a season and while managers are a part of that, they’re just that; a part in a larger function.
Miguel “Piojo” Herrera and Ricardo “Tuca” Ferretti are two of the best managers in Liga MX, and both have benefit from strong systems around them that support their coaching visions. It’s always a joy to watch these two go at it, and this Liguilla was no exception.
Tigres took a 2-1 lead back to El Volcán for the second leg, and it was easy to think the series was done. But Piojo had other ideas, swapping out Roger Martínez, Renato Ibarra, and Sebastián Córdova for Giovani dos Santos, Andrés Ibargüen, and Federico Viñas. It worked, with América racing out to three goals by halftime before getting a penalty kick in the 80th minute that Emanuel Aguilera converted to send Las Águilas through.
3.) Rayados rolls. A few weeks ago Monterrey was adrift. The most expensive roster in the league had floundered, and at the end of Week 16 sat in 13th place. The club fired Diego Alonso and brought back Antonio “Turco” Mohamed, who was able to get the club winning again.
The club snuck into the Liguilla as an eight seed, drawing Santos who had bulled their way to the superlíder position by Week 18. While it was less of a shock to see Rayados advance than Necaxa or Morelia, that they were able to do it by a 6-3 score line speaks volumes to how far the club has come in such a short time.
In Santos’ defense, Monterrey’s patience on the counterattack was suited perfectly against the high press and quick attacking style that Guillermo Almada has instituted. Santos was also uncharacteristically unable to finish chances, which perhaps on a different day or against a different opponent wouldn’t have mattered nearly as much.