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 By Tom Marshall

Toluca, Santos secure playoff spots, Lobos BUAP in relegation danger

Five takes from Round 14 of games in the Liga MX 2018 Clausura as the race for the playoffs spots and the relegation battle heat up.

1. Toluca, Santos Laguna qualify for postseason

Angel Reyna, a 33-year-old former member of the Mexico national team, secured a seventh consecutive Liga MX victory for Toluca with a fine strike from outside the penalty area in the 57th minute against Tigres.

The 1-0 win was impressive because came it after coach Hernan Cristante made six changes from the team that beat Lobos BUAP the previous weekend. The Argentine coach rested players for the Copa MX final against Necaxa on Wednesday.

Despite the personnel changes, Toluca was able to keep a clean sheet against the reigning Mexican champion, even if it did concede possession to Tigres for long periods.

The key to Toluca's win was its solid defense. While the side may not have set pulses racing, Los Diablos Rojos have only conceded three goals in their seven-game league winning streak. Goalkeeper Alfredo Talavera is looking like he is back at his best after an knee injury forced him to miss most of last season and the early part of this one.

Tigres will be fine, but these kind of performances serve as a reminder -- like against Toronto in the CONCACAF Champions League -- that the side has not reached its potential so far this Clausura.

On Sunday, Santos Laguna joined Toluca as the only two teams guaranteed to be in the postseason, with Los Guerreros netting three second half goals to defeat Queretaro 3-0.

Angel Reyna's goal helped the Liga MX leaders clench a postseason berth.
Angel Reyna's goal helped the Liga MX leaders clinch a postseason berth.

2. Lobos BUAP drop to last in relegation table

When Lobos BUAP thrashed Veracruz 5-0 on Feb. 24, it looked as though the relegation race was over. Everything pointed to Veracruz going down. But after Saturday's 1-0 loss to Cruz Azul, Lobos BUAP's total points tally since that victory over Veracruz stands at one out of a possible 18 points.

Firing coach Rafa Puente Jr. midweek didn't have the desired effect, although Daniel Alcantar was hindered in his debut by veteran center-back Francisco "Maza" Rodriguez both giving away the game-winning penalty and getting sent off, all in the first half.

But the nosedive for Lobos wouldn't be so worrisome if it wasn't for Veracruz's uptick in form. Los Tiburones Rojos defeated Chivas 1-0 on Saturday in Guadalajara to make it three-straight wins. The turnaround has seemingly come from nowhere given that Veracruz had conceded 10 goals without scoring one in the four matches before its current run.

While Lobos BUAP can still control whether it gets relegated, its remaining fixtures are against playoff-chasing teams: Necaxa (home), Monterrey (away), and Puebla (home). It's going to take a mighty effort for the Puebla-based team to pick up the necessary couple of wins.

Lobos BUAP takes another step closer to relegation with the 1-0 loss.
Lobos BUAP takes another step closer to relegation with the 1-0 loss.

3. Honda, Palacios stun Puebla

Pachuca has had a mediocre 2018 so far, but moved into the final playoff position with a 6-2 demolition of Puebla in Estadio Cuauhtemoc on Friday. The victory was largely down to Keisuke Honda and Sebastian Palacios, with the Japanese star netting twice and Palacios scoring four and assisting another.

At Puebla, Enrique Meza must be concerned with four consecutive defeats. There was a lot of hype when La Franja put together solid results at home at the start of the season, but the squad is now a long way off Liga MX's best and the club desperately needs a win away at Pumas on Sunday to restart its playoff drive.

The good news for Puebla is that the Pumas is in the same predicament. Pumas is still in the playoff race, even though their last win in the league was on Feb. 9. It should be pointed out, however, that they were a little unlucky to lose 2-1 to Monterrey on Saturday given some of the officiating.

In other results with playoff implications: Necaxa remained in the race with a 1-1 home draw against Club America, Morelia defeated Leon 3-2 to reduce Landon Donovan's team's chances of the postseason, Club Tijuana drew 2-2 with Atlas to end the weekend in seventh, and Queretaro still has a chance of the playoffs despite losing to Santos Laguna.

4. Chivas focus on CCL

Veracruz's 1-0 win in Estadio Chivas kept it in the playoff race and means Chivas' hopes of making the Liguilla are extremely slim.

Chivas coach Matias Almeyda faced criticism in Mexico for fielding a team made up mainly of youngsters. The Argentine coach was thinking ahead to Tuesday's CONCACAF Champions League semifinal second leg in New Jersey against the New York Red Bulls. It didn't help Almeyda that 19-year-old Benjamin Galindo Jr. -- son of Mexico legend Benjamin Galindo -- gave up a goal within 20 seconds of the start to hand Veracruz the victory.

The loss increased the pressure on Almeyda and Chivas ahead of the second leg against the Red Bulls. Getting through to the final would likely justify Almeyda's decision, whereas a loss would end Chivas' chances of a trophy this season.

5. Ruidiaz a potential star for Peru at World Cup

Talk around the Peru national team ahead of Russia 2018 has surrounded Paolo Guerrero's involvement in Ricardo Gareca's side.

But no one that watches Mexican football regularly can doubt Peruvian striker Raul Ruidiaz's ability to make an impact at the tournament.

On Friday, Ruidiaz recorded another hat trick as Morelia defeated Leon 3-2. It was Ruidiaz's 39th goal in 68 games for the club and it'd be no surprise if clubs in Europe are watching him closely.

Tom Marshall covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MexicoWorldCup.


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