Tigres, Atlas, Santos and America lock playoff spot in Liga MX

Posted by Andrea Canales

Francisco Estrada/Jam Media/LatinContent/Getty ImagesChristian Benitez celebrates the winning goal for Club America against Pumas. The Aguilas earned a spot in the liguilla playoffs.

With only two weeks left in the regular season, the playoff picture is coming into focus in Liga MX. The top contenders are priming to hit the end of the season in sync and with good momentum.

Tigres, for example, looked determined to overcome their first loss of the season. UANL managed to do just that in fine style, breaking out of their recent run of ties on their home ground with an emphatic 3-1 victory over hapless Pachuca. Veteran Carlos Salcido led the way with a pair of goals. The win kept Tigres atop the league table with a single point to spare.

Atlas is the club trailing close behind, thanks to a narrow triumph over Guadalajara. Luckily for Atlas and lamentably for Chivas, an apparent handball that could have led to the equalizing goal was missed by the referee and his assistants.

Club America had the same score in a 1-0 win over Pumas, but the glamour club of Liga MX was far more compact and organized in pressing their opponents, who ended the game with ten players. The rivalry between the two clubs may not be in the top echelon of Liga MX, but it is a fierce one nevertheless. There is little doubt that many Pumas players would like to revenge the loss to America if and when they meet in the Liguilla playoffs. For now, however, Club America gloats with an assured postseason ticket, while Pumas must still wait for their guaranteed entry.

Santos Laguna, however, is assured of the playoffs. There was also an extra flourish to the game that got them there, because the win for Santos came at the expense of Monterrey, the same club Santos Laguna faces in a two-legged final to determine the CONCACAF Champions League crown. Thanks in large part to the impressive goalkeeping skills of Oswaldo Sanchez, Santos Laguna can now, presumably, kick back a bit and focus on those matches, while Monterrey, in contrast, has the double worry of defending the CCL trophy and fighting to make the playoffs still. With only 20 points, it’s doable, but definitely not easy.

Yet at least Monterrey is still in contention. The defending Apertura champions, the Xolos of Tijuana, look as if they won’t even make the playoffs after losing to Morelia in a messy match. The hectic schedule of some Liga MX teams seems to have caught up with this still-evolving organization. Ironically, Tijuana is still alive in the prestigious Copa Libertadores tournament, but domestically, they haven’t made the cut.

The clubs at the bottom of the table are still dangerous, partly because playing for pride is an exercise in freedom, and a return to the roots of the game. Jaguares and Leon produced a four-goal slugfest and Atlante relished the role of spoiler, turning in a tidy 2-0 win over Puebla that doused that club’s hopes of playoff action completely.

The next two weeks will bring the most drama for the clubs who aren’t at the top or the bottom, but those right near the middle line that determines life in the playoffs or death to any championship chance with the end of the regular season. For these clubs, the day of judgment may not come until the bitter end of the final minute of play.

Of these contenders, Cruz Azul, along with Morelia, seems primed to break out ahead of the pack and continue their momentum into the playoffs. Los Cementeros looked in fine form with a 2-0 defeat of Toluca. Cruz Azul have a new concentration and spring in their step since their Copa MX win. That’s just what is needed to not only take on the win-or-go-home gauntlet of the playoffs, but also to get there in the first place.

ESPN Conversations