Liguilla Preview: Five things to watch
First off, I would like to congratulate Cruz Azul, Toluca, Pumas, Santos, America, Pachuca, Tijuana, and Leon on making it into the Liguilla. Statistically speaking though, 44% of the teams in the Liga MX make it into the playoffs, so I should maybe hold onto that applause for later. I bet Chiapas or Monterrey would have loved to be using NBA playoff rules.
- Canales: Liguilla participants set
Now, what is there to expect from the last eight during the playoffs? Any forwards pushing their fellow defenders right before halftime? Any busses breaking down on the way back from a match? Those are all entertaining thoughts but not very likely. However, here are five things to watch for during the first round of the Liguilla quarterfinals.
1. Santos goalkeeper dilemma
Santos coach Pedro Caixinha announced to the press on Monday that goalkeeper Oswaldo Sanchez would be 100% ready for the game against America. Sanchez injured his left knee during Santos' most recent match against Veracruz and had to be subbed off during the 76th minute of the game. The injury might be superficial, but it could give the Guerreros some worries if it hasn't completely healed after just four days. Santos' back-up keeper who is almost half the age of Sanchez, Julio Gonzalez, has not seen much time on the field and has only played a total of 194 minutes in the Liga MX and Copa Libertadores for Santos this season.
2. Leon vs Cruz Azul
Now that Leon are finished with the Copa Libertadores, they can focus all of their energy on the Liguilla. Then again, so can Cruz Azul who are the most recent winners of the CONCACAF Champions League. On paper, this series should be easy for Cruz Azul, but the pressure is much higher for the Cementeros. The Copa MX and CONCACAF Champions League are impressive wins, but one would easily assume that winning the Clausura would be much more important for the squad that has recently been seen as the "second-best" team. Also, it's noteworthy to consider the fact that Leon and Cruz Azul ended in a 0-0 tie during their only meeting this season.
3. Tijuana's imperative home game
Los Xolos need to win on Thursday. If not, the odds are definitely not in their favor. Perhaps it's due to their very northern location, but Tijuana had an excellent home record and abysmal away record. Considering all of the Liga MX squads, Tijuana had the third best home record with six wins and only two losses. However, away from home, they had the third worst with one win, three ties, and five losses. Tijuana coach Cesar Farias will have a daunting task at hand going up against Toluca.
4. Pachuca's perseverance?
Pachuca were a little over fifteen minutes away from being knocked out of the Liguilla last week. Los Tuzos were down 3-0 against Queretaro and then made a spectacular push to score four goals and secure a spot in the playoffs. If Pachuca would have lost the game, it would have been their fourth in their last five. They have their good form during the first half of the season to thank for their slightly above average record and will need much more than just 15-20 minutes of great futbol to do well in the Liguilla.
5. Oribe Peralta's resurgence
Santos, for better or worse, have exciting games. They score plenty of goals and plenty of goals get scored on them. At the helm of Santos' scoring is Oribe Peralta who only had one assist and zero goals during the first seven games of the season. He actually had more yellow cards (three) than goals or assists during that time. Since then, Peralta has found a newfound resurgence and has scored eight goals in his last nine appearances, along with two assists. All eyes will be on Peralta on Wednesday to see if he can surprise Antonio Mohamed and America.