Cruz Azul needs a goal at the Azteca; Monterrey seeks to hold on vs. Atlas
The first games of Liga MX's Liguilla took place on Wednesday and Thursday, and they varied in excitement. There were matches that didn't pick up serious intensity until the last 10 minutes, as was the case in the Toluca-Morelia game, which finished 2-1 in favor of Los Diablos Rojos. The Atlas-Monterrey match, which finished with a 2-1 victory for Rayados, turned from a game where it looked like Monterrey was going to walk away with a four-goal win over Atlas to one where Atlas almost got a 2-2 draw. Leon-Tigres and Cruz Azul-America finished their games with ties, which means that the last 90 minutes of these series could go down to the wire, depending on what Leon does at El Volcan and Cruz Azul at Estadio Azteca.
Here's the W2W4 for each of the quarterfinal battles:
Tigres vs. Leon, Saturday 8 p.m. ET
Leon will arrive in Monterrey with a certain degree of confidence. Leon was one of three clubs that were able to beat Tigres during the regular season, but at home the Monterrey club is undefeated. In the regular season, Tigres picked up seven wins and one draw. The conclusions from that first leg at Estadio Nou Camp is that Tigres have players like Eduardo Vargas, Andre-Pierre Gignac, Javier Aquino and Jesus Duenas, who can create one good attacking play and put the ball in the back of the net.
Meanwhile, Leon will need to be more clinical in front of goal, which means that players like Mauro Boselli and Elias Hernandez will need to give their best showing. Any draw that's not 0-0 or 1-1 will send Leon to the next round, but whoever wins the second leg of this series will reach the semis. Right now, Tigres have the advantage.
Morelia vs. Toluca, Saturday 10 p.m. ET
Morelia had a 1-0 lead against Toluca at Estadio Nemesio Diez, but between the 90th and 92nd minutes, Toluca scored twice to win the first match of the series. Morelia fell apart at the end, and without a doubt, it cannot afford another episode of this sort, or the season will be over. At home, Morelia finished the regular season with two wins, four draws and two losses. Its home record isn't as dominant, but because it's a higher seed than Toluca, a 1-0 or 2-1 win would put it in the next round.
For Toluca, there's a good chance to once again see it reach the semis, but in order to return, playmakers like Rubens Sambueza and Pablo Barrientos have to be inspired in the last 90 minutes of this series.
Monterrey vs. Atlas, Sunday 7 p.m. ET
It took Monterrey 16 minutes to get a 2-0 lead in its visit to Atlas. When it looked like its two-goal lead would extend because Los Rojinegros looked naive in most of their defensive plays, the Guadalajara side showed character in the second half to leave the final score at 2-1. Ultimately, Monterrey looks invincible at home, where it scored 19 goals and conceded four in the regular season. Monterrey's main goalscorer, Aviles Hurtado, has yet to score his first Liguilla goal, and on Sunday he will have opportunities to end that drought. Atlas needs a perfect game in order to reach the semis, and by doing so, it would be one of the biggest Liga MX surprises in 2017.
America vs. Cruz Azul, Sunday 9 p.m. ET
Mateus Uribe and Edson Alvarez, who saw red cards in the first leg of the Clasico Joven, won't be available for America in the second leg. America played the whole second half down a man and was able to keep the final score 0-0, leaving everything for the second leg at Estadio Azteca. Defensively, America kept its cool, especially with a top performance from goalkeeper Agustin Marchesin, but it seems that the team is lacking attacking spark.
A scoreless draw at Azteca would give Las Aguilas the ticket to the semis, but they need to show some type of threat when attacking. In its last five Liga MX games, America has scored twice. On Thursday, Miguel "Piojo" Herrera decided to hand 20-year-old Costa Rican Gerson Torres his first Liga MX minutes and left players like Silvio Romero and Diego Lainez on the bench.
Paco Jemez's Cruz Azul knows that a goal at Azteca could set it in a favorable scenario. La Maquina will look for a goal and hope that goalkeeper Jose de Jesus Corona can give another performance like he did on Thursday, where he made a penalty save that prevented America from taking a 1-0 lead. This will be the seventh time that Cruz Azul heads into the second leg of a Liguilla series after tying 0-0 in the first leg. In the last six series that this scenario happened, Cruz Azul went on to win four of them; the historical stats are on La Maquina's favor.
Nayib Moran covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @nayibmoran.