After a 17 game Clausura season in Liga MX the season now moves into the Liguilla phase (Playoff) as the top eight teams in the league table will look to battle their way and be crowned champions of Mexico (Fun fact, this Liguilla will not feature any teams from the capital of Mexico City and three of Mexico’s “Big Four” in Cruz Azul, Pumas, and America).
From here the Liguilla, which is a playoff format knockout tournament, will seed the teams 1-8 based off their league standings. The lower seed hosting the first leg while the higher seed hosting the second leg. There’s also the away goal rule, and if the teams are tied on aggregate and away goals, the higher seeded team will move on. In the semifinals, the teams will be reseeded 1-4 based off their league standings again in case of any first round upsets.
Now for the matchups which are highlighted by two tasty derbies.
Xolos look to avoid last season's blunder
(1) Tijuana vs (8) Morelia
If Mexico had a European style format for the soccer season of a 34 game league table instead of two shorter 17 league game plus playoffs, Tijuana would be your new champions after finishing first in the league table in both the 2016 Apertura season and the 2017 Clausura season. Instead, Tijuana was bounced in the quarterfinals last season by 8th seeded Leon and will now look to avoid the same faith against Morelia.
Tijuana’s biggest hurdle might be off the field than on the field. Former Mexican national team coach Miguel Herrera looks all but set to return to Club America after the season. The popular coach has done a fantastic job of bringing consistency to Xolo’s which is so rare to find in Liga MX which is known for its erratic results at the time (Look no further than newly crowned CONCACAF Champions League champions Pachuca failing to finish in the top eight).
With a 92nd goal, Morelia not only booked their place in the Liguilla by finishing 8th, they also jumped Pachuca and America in the league table on goal differential as they were all tied with 24 points. More importantly, they also avoided relegation and sent Chiapas down to Mexico’s second division. At this point, Morelia is playing with house money as they set out to reach the goal they’d hoped for in staying in Mexico’s first division.
Now with nothing to lose and no pressure on their shoulders, it’s the type of opponent that can pull of a first round upset to continue their fantastic run. The best thing Morelia have going is that they’ve won their last two and have been playing do or die soccer all season being in the relegation battle. Now all the pressure shifts off of them and onto Xolos, who will look to avoid being bounced in the quarterfinals for the second Liguilla in a row as the top seed.
Devils and Saints do battle
(4) Toluca vs (5) Santos
The matchup that might get the least amount of eyes but features two of Mexico’s most consistent and quality ran clubs. The teams faced off in the last match of the last week of the Liga MX season on Sunday and which finished in a 2-2 draw, and both teams finishing with less than 11 men on the field. The draw also served both teams well because if either would have won they would have faced defending champions Tigres, the hottest team in the league at the moment. In a knockout style format, both teams look to like their chances against each other rather than against the high-powered Tigres.
The advantage has to go to Toluca who will have the second leg at home and have the higher seed advantage. The attack-minded club will look most likely look to play it straight to the game plan and look to play it tight away at Santos in the first leg and then use their home field and Santos youth against them.
Santos might be the biggest wild card of the eight teams. While they’ve only lost once in the 17 league matches, which means if they can get a result at home, they will be hard to beat away. The fascinating thing about Santos is they also drew eleven times during the season! That’s an almost 65% draw in the matches they played. While Santos has the least amount of defeats of all the teams in the Liguilla (1), they also have the least amount of wins (5). If Santos finds themselves needing to get a result, can they find a way?
Finals worthy Clasico match up in Monterrey
(2) Monterrey vs (7) Tigres
What makes Liga MX great and unique? That Tigres, the defending champions, with the deepest, scariest roster, riding into the Liguilla outscoring their last 5 opponents 15-2 are the 7th seed and the favorites! What makes Liga MX even better? The only team to get a result against them from those matches are their quarterfinals opponent, Monterrey. Even better? Monterrey, if not joint favorites are the second favorites to be champions based on talent, roster, and play. What makes that the best thing ever? It’s a Clasico and a Monterrey derby in one Mexico’s most important cities, Making it the juiciest of quarterfinal match-up.
From the die hard fans for both teams in the city of Monterrey to the top notch coaches on both benches, to the players on the field that ooze international and national talent, this is the best that Mexico has at the moment when it comes to soccer institutions.
Even though Tigres lost their third international title in as many years a few weeks ago and looked like they were coasting for most of the season, Tigres enter the Liguilla firing on all cylinders averaging 3 goals in a game in their last 5 Liga MX matches. The only team that could beat them without it being considered an upset? Their city rivals Monterrey, who is right there with them in almost all aspects on the field. A toss-up of a matchup and one that will have the team surviving being the one favored to life the cup.
Little brother looks to knock out big brother and break a curse
(3) Chivas vs (6) Atlas
Mexico’s oldest rivalry will add another chapter when El Clasico Tapatio will have the added drama of a spot in the semifinals in place. While Chivas is one-half of Mexico’s biggest rivalry against America and is Mexico’s most popular club, they haven’t lifted a league title in 11 years. Which is far too long for a team whose whole base is winning with only Mexicans. While they’ve won two Copa MX in the last two years, the tournament still doesn’t hold much value since it’s return from its wonky format and the fact that not all the Liga MX teams can participate (Liga MX teams are participating in CONCACAF Champions League are not allowed to participate).
After some low seasons, Chivas look to be back as a consistent Liguilla performer, but a deep run will be needed to show they have staying power in hopes for their 12th title.
Standing in their way is little brother Atlas, who have been the surprise of the tournament with their free flowing style of play and have done so down the stretch without captain and club legend Rafa Marquez. Not only are Atlas trying to become the first team to win the title as the sixth seed in the league table, but they’re also trying to break a league title drought that goes back 66 years.
Living under the shadow of the more famous and successful neighbors of Chivas, this rivalry will have the emotions overflowing for the 180 minutes. Just two years ago saw them face each other in the same phase and after Chivas took an early 2-0 lead in the second leg, the game was stopped for almost 30 minutes to a field invasion from the Atlas fan section.
This match will also offer a few of some of the best and most promising players from Mexico. As Chivas works under an only Mexican philosophy, Atlas are not far behind as they constantly trot out a team of 7-8 Mexicans in the starting eleven. Giving a chance for a number of players to impress for Juan Carlos Osorio in hopes of making the Confederations Cup or Gold Cup roster for Mexico this summer.