Toluca, Pachuca over Club America, Monterrey

The semifinals of the 2022 Apertura season are now officially over, leaving just two teams in the running for the Liga MX title. Following the latest batch of playoff games, here are some talking points and ideas ahead of this week’s final two legs.

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Club America title favorites ousted by Toluca

No. 6 seed Toluca was already eliminated before even taking the field last week. Up against No. 1 Club America in the semifinals, Toluca is widely seen as a small roadblock for the Liga MX giants, which demolished Puebla 11-2 in the previous quarterfinals.

Then there were errors that seemed to double the size of their supposedly harmless barrier. In a wildly error-filled evening for Club America, Toluca pounced on ill-timed passes and shocking chances that led to a shock 2-1 victory in the first leg of their semifinal series last Wednesday.

“It’s football, mistakes happen,” Club America manager Fernando Ortiz said after the loss, calling the result simply odd. “They happened to us today.”

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At home during Saturday’s second leg at the historic Estadio Azteca, things did not go well Las Aguilas. The Toluca defense remained strong thanks to outstanding performances from Harrett Ortega, Valber Huerta and Andres Mosquera. In net, goalkeeper Tiago Volpi impressed with his handful of saves to hold Club America to just one goal over the weekend. With a goal of their own from left back Jorge Torres Nilo, Toluca eventually sneaked through with a 3-2 aggregate result.

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A dramatic injury-time goal from Henry Martin was ruled offside — which would have sent them into the final via the top-seeded tiebreaker — despite Club America coming close to turning the tournament in their favor. Las Aguilas No excuses for their semi-final exit.

Usually able to rely on a host of high-performing options in midfield and attack, Club America lost out when Toluca’s attacking play shut down starters like Diego Valdez and Richard Sanchez. Los Diablos Rojos Mexico City forced the squad into mistakes, and in response, Ortiz made questionable substitutions in the second leg that did little to spark new ideas in the final third.

“I’m responsible for this game failure,” Ortiz said after the layoff, then added, “Obviously I want to keep going.” [as manager].”

In Toluca’s case, a once-defensively weak group of players has stepped up at the perfect moment. After picking up just six wins from July to September, Los Diablos Rojos And manager Ignacio “Nacho” Ambriz heads into the finals with five wins in October alone.

Ambris was recruited last December ahead of the 2022 Clausura campaign but finished 15th in the standings. This Apertura season, he has assembled a side that has thrived on a more resilient defense and spawned behind game-changers like Volpi, Jean Meneses and Leonardo Fernandez.

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“Eight months ago we were a disaster,” Ambris said of beating Club America. “Now that’s changing.”

Against No. 4 seed Pachuca in this week’s two-legged championship series, Ambriz and his squad will once again look to upset expectations.

Pachuca, a disappointing final after Monterrey

Toluca wasn’t the only Liga MX club to lose in the quarterfinals. Pachuca was convincing against No. 2 seed Monterrey in the previous round, eventually beating the favorites 6-2.

Thursday’s first leg at home set the tone for Pachuca. Fearless with their attack-minded approach, Los Tusos The tournament got off to a thrilling start as Pachuca took a 3-2 lead by the 47th minute. An even battle between the two at first, Monterrey then shot himself in the foot through a straight red for Eric Aguirre in the 64th minute, allowing Pachuca to score twice in extra time and win the first leg 5-2.

Able to absorb pressure and play defensively if necessary, manager Guillermo Almada used a more compact version of his usual 4-2-3-1 formation in Sunday’s second leg, which led to a frustrated Monterrey forward line unable to find the backline. A 1-0 loss. Veteran goalkeeper Oscar Ustari made 11 saves — with defenders like Oscar Murillo, Gustavo Cabral and Kevin Alvarez making even more clearances and attacks — Los Tusos Monterrey’s attack survived and it quickly ran out of solutions by the second half.

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With the series all but over, a 95th-minute penalty goal for Pachuca’s Aviles Hurtado, who left Monterrey in 2021 after a minutes deficit, was the perfect icing on the cake for Almada and his team.

The 56-year-old Uruguayan coach, who arrived in December ahead of the 2022 Clausura campaign, has now led his club to back-to-back Champions League appearances. After pushing Santos Laguna to a final in the 2021 Clausura, could this finally be the moment Almada not only wins his first Liga MX title, but helps Pachuca win their second Liga MX title since 2016?

“Yes hopefully,” Almada said after the win. “We will give our all to achieve the goal, [but] Toluca will think the same as us, so may the best win.”

Pachuca Toluca is a side not to be overlooked and its regular season status can be deceiving. In a shorter tournament format like Liga MX, it can take a manager more than one season to get his roster clicking. at their best, Los Tusos A more organized and balanced team who can seamlessly switch from an aggressive attacking style to dropping deep and defending if needed.

With a good mix of promising academy talent and experienced foreign signings, Pachuca could be the last to stop Toluca.

Liga MX final schedule

Pachuca vs. Toluca
First leg: Thursday, October 27 (time TBD)
Second Leg: Sunday, October 30 (time TBD)


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