Rubens Sambueza inspires Toluca win that ends America's undefeated streak
Here are five talking points from round 12 of matches in the Liga MX:
1. Sambueza ends Club America's undefeated streak
After 11 games unbeaten this season, Club America suffered its first defeat on Saturday, falling 2-1 to Toluca thanks in no small part to former Las Aguilas player Rubens Sambueza.
Sambueza is the type of player who can infuriate the opposition with his play-acting, cunning and frequent moments of genius. He was therefore, perhaps naturally, a favorite with Club America fans in his four years at the club, and he had an important role in bringing two Liga MX titles and two CONCACAF Champions League trophies to Estadio Azteca.
But letting Sambueza go ahead of the 2017 Clausura was widely criticized by America fans, and on Saturday's evidence, you can see why. The 34-year-old scored the equalizer after Renato Ibarra had handed America a second-minute lead and then assisted the late Toluca winner.
It was a man-of-the-match performance from Sambueza, although Toluca's job did become easier after America's Bruno Valdez was sent off in the 35th minute for a brusque challenge on Alexis Canelo.
This was a game that felt like a playoff match, with both sides putting everything on the line. There were a total of 10 yellow cards, America coach Miguel Herrera and Toluca's Hernan Cristante each were sent from the bench following a slightly comical scuffle between the two of them and there was no shortage of intensity.
#Video Tras una polémica jugada en la Liga MX, los técnicos quisieron arreglar todo a las trompadas. Hernán Cristante, totalmente sacado, agarró del cuello a Miguel Herrera en pleno tumulto. https://t.co/l5xxdBvupI— SportsCenter (@SC_ESPN) March 18, 2018
In the end, the headlines may have centered around Club America's first loss of the Clausura and the shoving between the managers, but Toluca has now won its last eight games in all competitions (five in Liga MX) and is the in-form side in Mexico. The balance, experience and solid South American core has seen Toluca emerge as a team that promises to be able to ditch the failures of recent playoff runs and be in the mix to reach a final for the first time since 2012.
2. Chivas impress vs. Tigres, but playoffs slipping away
In terms of entertaining games, this was a really good weekend in Liga MX. While Chivas and Tigres may have tied 0-0 on Sunday, the only disappointment was that is was scheduled at the same time as both America-Toluca and Necaxa's 1-1 draw with Pachuca.
Around 15,000 Tigres fans made Estadio Akron their latest "invasion," and the sold-out crowd watched a game that was end-to-end. It didn't look like this was a match between third and 15th in the table.
Chivas appear a very different side defensively now Jair Pereira and Oswaldo Alanis are back as the center-back pairing, and although the home team didn't create as much as it normally does, it also restricted a Tigres side for which Andre-Pierre Gignac was out injured.
The result does very little for Chivas in terms of the playoff race, with Guadalajara now five points behind off eighth-place Club Tijuana with five games left in the regular season. While that may not sound a lot, there are six other teams between Chivas and Tijuana chasing the same goal.
But in terms of the upcoming CONCACAF Champions League series against the New York Red Bulls, Chivas are showing tentative signs of clicking into gear at just the right time.
3. Veracruz shows fight to keep relegation alive
Veracruz defeated Atlas 3-1 on Sunday and the victory meant the relegation fight is still on, even though the Tiburones Rojos are still likely to go down.
Veracruz had lost its three previous games without even scoring, but some of Atlas' defending was so inviting that it doesn't take a genius to figure out why Atlas are also in relegation trouble.
Veteran Rafa Marquez again struggled at center-back, while Atlas goalkeeper Miguel Fraga was guilty of making a howler for Veracruz to score its second.
Atlas remain eight points ahead of Veracruz in the relegation table with five games to play, meaning a significant swing needs to take place, although if the Rojinegros remain so poor defensively then they won't pick up many more points.
The other team realistically still in the equation is Lobos BUAP, who drew 2-2 on Saturday with Leon, but the Puebla-based club will be almost guaranteed survival if it can win two of its five remaining games.
4. Time for Puebla to regroup
The international break has come at a good time for Puebla. They were the darlings of the media in the early weeks of the Clausura, storming into the top spots despite having a weaker squad than most Liga MX teams. But Puebla followed up last week's 1-0 loss to Atlas with a 1-0 defeat to Santos Laguna on Friday. Neither made for pretty viewing.
Puebla is still seventh in the table and it is unlikely the team spirit that Enrique Meza has forged at the club will dissipate after a couple of bad results. But this mini-break is an opportune time to regroup and prove in the latter stages of the season that their previous form wasn't a flash in the pan.
5. Inconsistency means playoff spots are open
It's been a slightly strange Clausura so far, shorn of much consistency. The naysayers would suggest that is the very nature of Liga MX, but this season seems to be more unpredictable than usual.
Top five Santos Laguna, Toluca, Tigres, Club America and Morelia are excluded from this criticism and should make the playoffs comfortably.
But Monterrey, Puebla, Club Tijuana, Pumas, Nexaca, Pachuca, Leon, Queretaro, Cruz Azul and Guadalajara -- the teams still with playoff hopes -- have enjoyed highs and lows so far in the Clausura.
Apertura runner-up Monterrey is really the enigma and should be among the top places, although Antonio Mohamed will be hopeful last Saturday's 3-1 win over Queretaro is a springboard to greater things.
Xolos have had ups and downs, Pumas have been all over the place, Pachuca and Leon were playoff hopefuls that have disappointed and "grandes" Cruz Azul and Chivas need a really special finish to the season if they are to make the postseason.
Tom Marshall covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MexicoWorldCup.