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Apr 21, 2014

Liga MX Week 16 roundup: Playoff spots up for grabs

The age of powerhouse clubs in Liga MX may have come and gone, for as the Clausura 2014 season winds down, it’s evident that there is plenty of parity, if not downright mediocrity, in the league.

What else can one conclude when the Copa MX champions, Tigres, will not make the liguilla playoffs? Or when the defending champions, Leon, still alive in the Copa Libertadores, will probably miss out on the postseason as well? Even Club America, so dominant only a season ago, hasn’t clinched a playoff spot yet.

At the same time, this new competitive era means that no team is safe and that games before the liguilla have real meaning. That’s exciting and unpredictable.

Even teams at the top of the table aren’t safe. Cruz Azul decided to save its top players for the upcoming final leg of the CONCACAF Champions League final. Morelia took advantage, walloping the second-rate roster 5-1 on Friday to climb into 7th place in the table. Cruz Azul remains on top, albeit with their pride somewhat dented.

It was probably a small consolation to Cementero fans that second-place Toluca did not make up any ground, losing 1-0 to Atlas. Toluca was also resting its best players in anticipation of the CONCACAF final. While the Red Devils squad wasn’t embarrassed as much as Cruz Azul in a tight loss to Atlas, the end result of points lost was the same. For Atlas, the victory put the club at the cusp of a liguilla position.

Club America played a tight, cagey match versus Queretaro, perhaps deciding that giving up one precious point was riskier than gunning for the full three. Or perhaps nerves grounded Las Aguilas and their offensive game. The 0-0 draw between the clubs leaves Club America in 5th place. That liguilla spot is less than secure, however, given the number of teams who can catch their point total. Yet Club America is still likely to be in the liguilla.

Santos is another club not approaching the playoff season with full momentum. The Laguneros fell at home to Chiapas FC 2-3 despite scoring the first and final goal of the match.

Pachuca also fell short against Puebla, which rallied from last place in the standings to one spot up. Although currently clinging to the final liguilla spot, Pachuca may not make the playoffs despite having the league’s top goalscorer this season, Enner Valencia.

Monterrey’s late charge for the playoffs has come at the expense of Veracruz. Well-aware that goal differential may decide the liguilla, Monterrey spanked Veracruz 4-1. Currently in 13th place, Los Rayados may only have a ghost of a chance of finally making it, but at least they’re trying. Veracruz, meanwhile, has slid into the final spot in the league.

Another case of too little, too late may be that of Leon, whose capable 3-0 victory over Tigres could leave fans shaking their heads over what might have been. Tied with Monterrey at 20 points, Leon might not make the liguilla at all, thus missing out on a chance to defend their title.

Tigres is another club that fell asleep in the early going of the season, and against Leon, the squad seem to have reverted to day-dreaming on the field of play. With only 18 points, team may have to retool and decide how much blame lies in coach Ricardo Ferretti.

It’s a bit strange, but for Chivas, either relegation next season or making the liguilla both seem like viable possibilities right now. Actually, either might be better than the malaise of nothingness that has too often afflicted this club. Season after season, they don’t contend for a title, but they’re usually not bad enough to have to worry about relegation, either. Mathematically, Chivas, now in 11th place, could make the liguilla, but the squad would have to show more strength of purpose and character than was revealed in a 1-0 loss to Pumas this weekend. The bloom may already be off the La Volpe coaching rose. Pumas, however, is now up to third in the standings and sure to move on.

Atlante succumbed to their relegation doom with a 1-2 loss to Club Tijuana. The Xolos proved, just before the liguilla, that it is possible for them to win away from Estadio Caliente, which should give the team the confidence boost needed to seal up a liguilla spot.

It’s a strange new world in Liga MX, where the top clubs are now longer as clear cut. Yet the final ax will fall soon on the decision of who will be the top eight, and then the liguilla will sort out the champion.