Youngster Roberto Alvarado, veteran Aviles Hurtado among players to watch in Liga MX semis
Now that we are past the quarterfinals of the Liga MX playoffs, only four teams remain in the hunt for the 2018 Apertura title: Cruz Azul, Monterrey, Club America and Pumas. With a much-desired place in the next round, all four teams will be battling in the semifinal stage that kicks off this Wednesday.
Ahead of the semis, here are five players to keep an eye on.
Roberto Alvarado, MF, Cruz Azul
If you're looking for an up-and-coming talent who might take the Liguilla by storm, Alvarado is one of the leading candidates. With plenty of pace, a good handle of the ball, and an eye for decisive passes, the 20-year-old Mexican will be central for Cruz Azul in this week's series against Monterrey. As an attack-minded midfielder, Alvarado will be expected to spearhead a number of significant plays in the final third.
In a Cruz Azul side that is filled with some of the best players in the league, the youngster has still found a way to make a name for himself in the Apertura. If he keeps up the momentum seen in recent months for club and country, Cruz Azul will have an excellent chance of earning a spot in the final.
Aviles Hurtado, FW, Monterrey
Hurtado has proven to be an enigma for Monterrey. At times underwhelming for long periods of time, the winger hasn't lived up to the high expectations that were put upon him when he arrived from Tijuana last year.
And yet, there were signs of his old self in the quarterfinals. In the second leg against Santos Laguna, the Colombian dashed and dribbled his way to one of his most impressive matches of the season. Along with some help from Rogelio Funes Mori up front, Hurtado was unlucky to finish the 2-0 win with only one assist.
At the peak of his abilities, the 31-year-old is arguably the most efficient counter-attacker in the league. Whether he will step up as an agile and deadly winger in the semis -- or as a distracted Monterrey star -- remains to be seen.
Mateus Uribe, MF, Club America
No player in the quarterfinals collected more accurate passes, assists and crosses for Club America than Uribe. Tasked with most of the responsibility of Las Aguilas' playmaking, the well-rounded starter has thrived as a highly active box-to-box midfielder. With 14 starts in the 15 games he has been available in the Apertura, there's no doubt that Uribe is a crucial component in Club America's roster.
Following a small lapse in form in October, the Colombian has bounced back with eye-catching performances in his last few matches. As long as Uribe is able to sustain his newfound rhythm, there's no reason why he won't be able to help Las Aguilas fly into the final.
America and Colombia midfielder Mateus Uribe is one of Liga MX's best playmakers and chance creators.
Pablo Aguilar, DF, Cruz Azul
Aguilar is the best central defender in Liga MX. Thanks to his dominant and aggressive presence, few players can easily sneak past the Paraguayan who is imposing both on the ground and in the air. For Cruz Azul, the veteran has somehow improved a backline which was already solid before his arrival over the summer.
All that said, his workload against Monterrey will be a challenging one. Hurtado alone is an attacking menace, and in support, Los Rayados will also have Funes Mori, Rodolfo Pizarro, Dorlan Pabon and others to call upon in attack. Opposite Santos Laguna in the quarterfinals, Liga MX fans were given just a small hint of what Monterrey has been capable of.
Whether Cruz Azul will survive a potential attacking onslaught in the semis will likely depend on the performances of Aguilar this week.
Alfredo Saldivar, GK, Pumas
Saldivar isn't the most exciting goalkeeper left in the playoffs. Although he has had his moments with Pumas this season, there is still something left to be desired by the 28-year-old goalkeeper who has yet to live up to the hype of his younger days.
That isn't to say that Saldivar isn't capable of pulling off some highlight-worthy saves. The goalkeeper has the talent to do so, but in the upcoming Clasico Capitalino battle against Club America, there will be no room for error from the inconsistent Mexican. A slip up or two could lead to a collapse of a Pumas side that is already an underdog in this series.
Will Saldivar take charge as an unexpected hero or will he be a weak link for a squad that can't afford to make very many mistakes to reach the final?