The semifinals of the Apertura 2022 season are now officially over, leaving only two teams to fight for the Liga MX title. After the latest batch of playoff games, here are some talking points and some thoughts before the final two games this week.
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Title favorites Club America were ousted by Toluca
Toluca is ranked No. 6 was removed before going to the field last week. Up against No.
Then came the error that seemed to double the size of their supposedly dangerous obstacle. In a strange evening full of mistakes for Club America, Toluca seized on an errant pass and a moment of faltering that cost them a 2-1 victory in the first leg of the semifinal series last Wednesday.
“It’s football, mistakes happen,” Club America manager Fernando Ortiz said after the defeat, dismissing the result as simply strange. “Today they happened to us.”
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At home during the second leg on Saturday at the historic Estadio Azteca, the situation was not better for Las Aguilas. Toluca remained solid defensively, led by standout performances from defenders Haret Ortega, Valber Huerta and Andres Mosquera. In net, goalkeeper Tiago Volpi was influential with several saves that would continue to hold Club America to just one goal on the weekend. With an own goal from left back Jorge Torres Nilo, Toluca eventually slipped through with a 3-2 aggregate result.
Although Club America almost turned the series around with a dramatic injury-time goal from Henry Martin that was ruled offside — which would have sent them to the final via a higher-seeded tiebreaker — Las Aguilas have no reason to exit their semifinals.
Usually able to rely on many high-performing options in midfield and attack, Club America looked lost when starters like Diego Valdes and Richard Sanchez were shut down by Toluca’s aggressive play. Los Diablos Rojos forced the Mexico City squad to make a mistake, and as a response, Ortiz made a questionable substitution in the second leg which did little to bring new ideas in the final third.
“I am responsible for the failure of this sport,” Ortiz said after the loss, adding that “obviously I want to continue. [as manager].”
As for Toluca, a group of players who were once weak in defense have gained momentum at the perfect moment. After getting only six wins from July to September, Los Diablos Rojos and manager Ignacio “Nacho” Ambriz who is sprinting to the final with five victories in October alone.
Ambriz was hired last December ahead of the Clausura 2022 campaign but finished only 15th in the table. In this Apertura season, he has put together an advanced side with a more resilient defense and produced full-backs like Volpi, Jean Meneses, and Leonardo Fernandez.
“Eight months ago we were a disaster,” said Ambriz of beating Club America. “Now it has changed.”
Against Pachuca No. 4 in the two-quarter championship series this week, Ambriz and his group of players will once again look to defy expectations.
Pachuca returned in the final upset after Monterrey
Toluca wasn’t the only Liga MX club to get a win in the semifinals. Pachuca was convincing in the previous round against No. 2 seed Monterrey, ultimately defeating the favorite 6-2 on aggregate.
Thursday’s first leg at home set the tone for Pachuca. Undaunted by their attack-minded approach, Los Tuzos traded jabs in a thrilling start to the series that found Pachuca narrowly up 3-2 by minute 47. At first an even battle between the two, Monterrey then shot itself in the foot through the red directly in the 64th minute for Erick Aguirre, so Pachuca scored twice more and won first leg with a scoreline of 5-2.
Also adept at absorbing pressure and playing defensively when needed, manager Guillermo Almada used a more compact version of his usual 4-2-3-1 formation in Sunday’s second leg, leading to a frustrated Monterrey front line that couldn’t find the back. net in a 1-0 loss. With veteran goalkeeper Oscar Ustari collecting 11 saves — and defenders like Oscar Murillo, Gustavo Cabral and Kevin Alvarez making more clearances and tackles — Los Tuzos survive the attack of Monterrey who quickly ran out of solutions to problems in the second half.
With the series already over, the goal from the penalty in the 95th minute for Pachuca’s Aviles Hurtado, who left Monterrey in 2021 after a lack of minutes, was the perfect icing for Almada and his squad.
Arriving in December ahead of the Clausura 2022 campaign, the 56-year-old Uruguayan coach has now taken his club to back-to-back championships. After also pushing Santos Laguna to the final in the Clausura 2021, could this finally be the moment that Almada not only won his first Liga MX title, but also helped Pachuca claim its second Liga MX championship since 2016?
“I hope so,” said Almada after the victory. “We are going to give everything to achieve the goal, [but] Toluca will think the same as us, so the best will win.”
Pachuca should not overlook a Toluca side whose regular season position can be deceiving. In a short tournament format like Liga MX, it can often take a manager more than just one season to click with his roster. At their best, Los Tuzos is a more organized and balanced team that can seamlessly switch from an aggressive attacking style to dropping deep and defending when needed.
With a mix of promising academy talent and experienced foreign signings, Pachuca could be the ones to finally stop underdogs Toluca.
Liga MX final schedule
Pachuca vs Toluca
First leg: Thursday, October 27 (time TBD)
Second leg: Sunday, October 30 (time TBD)