Toluca, Pachuca over Club America, Monterrey

The semifinals of the 2022 Apertura season are now officially over, leaving only two teams in the race for the Liga MX title. After the latest set of playoff games, here are some talking points and some thoughts ahead of this week’s doubleheader finale.

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Title favorites Club America were taken out by Toluca

Toluka No. 6 Toluca was already written off before taking the field last week. Against the No. 1 Club America in the semifinal round, Toluca was widely seen as a minor obstacle for the Liga MX giants who had previously demolished Puebla 11-2 comprehensively in the quarterfinals.

Then came the bugs that seemed to double the size of their harmless barrier. In a surprisingly error-filled evening for Club America, Toluca capitalized on errant passes and timing to lead them to a shock 2-1 victory in last Wednesday’s first leg of their semifinal series.

“It’s football, mistakes happen,” Club America manager Fernando Ortiz said after the loss, describing the result as a mere oddity. “Today they came to us.”

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Things didn’t get any better at home during Saturday’s second leg at the historic Estadio Azteca. Las Aguilas. Toluca remained solid defensively, led by outstanding performances from defenders Haret Ortega, Valber Huerta and Andres Mosquera. In net, goalkeeper Tiago Volpi was impressive with several saves that would hold Club America to just one goal on the weekend. With a goal from left winger Jorge Torres Nilo, Toluca eventually lost 3-2 on aggregate.

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Although Club America almost turned the series in their favor with a dramatic injury-time goal from Henry Martin on a cross – which would have sent them into the finals via a higher seed – Las Aguilas there are no excuses for their semi-final exit.

Usually able to rely on several high-performing options in midfield and attack, Club America looked lost when starters like Diego Valdes and Richard Sanchez were held back by Toluca’s attacking play. Los Diablos Rojos forced the Mexico City team to make mistakes, and in response, Ortiz made questionable changes in the second leg that did little to bring new ideas in the third.

“I’m responsible for this failure of the sport,” Ortiz said after collapsing, then added that “obviously I want to continue. [as manager].”

As for Toluca, a group of players that was once weak defensively regained momentum at the perfect time. After claiming just six wins from July to September, Los Diablos Rojos and manager Ignacio “Nacho” Ambriz is riding a five-game winning streak in the finals in October alone.

Ambriz was hired last December ahead of the 2022 Clausura campaign but only finished 15th in the table. This Apertura season, he has put together a side that has thrived with a consistent defense and produced behind game-changers such as Volpi, Jean Meneses, and Leonardo Fernandez.

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

Against No. 4 Pachuca in this weekend’s two-legged championship series, Ambriz and his squad of players will look to defy expectations once again.

Pachuca returned after Monterrey in the final upset

Toluca was not the only Liga MX club to suffer a defeat in the semifinals. Pachuca was convincing against No. 2 Monterrey in the previous round, eventually beating the favorites 6-2 on aggregate.

Thursday’s first leg at home set the tone for Pachuca. With his fearless aggressive approach, Los Tuzos made an exciting start in the series with Pachuca trailing 3-2 in the 47th minute. In what was initially an even battle between the two, Monterrey then fired straight through Erick Aguirre’s foot in the 64th minute, allowing Pachuca to score twice more and take the first leg 5-2. succeed

Also capable of handling pressure and playing defensively if necessary, manager Guillermo Almada used a more complex version of his usual 4-2-3-1 formation during Sunday’s second leg, leading to a forward line. a frustrated Monterrey who couldn’t find the back of the front. lost 1-0. With veteran goalkeeper Oscar Ustari making 11 saves — and defenders like Oscar Murillo, Gustavo Cabral and Kevin Alvarez racking up even more clean sheets and steals — Los Tuzos got rid of the Monterrey attack that quickly got rid of the problems in the second half.

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With the streak coming to an end, a 95th-minute penalty goal for Pachuca’s Aviles Hurtado, who left Monterrey in 2021 after a lack of minutes, was the perfect goal for Almada and his team.

In December ahead of the 2022 Clausura campaign, the 56-year-old Uruguayan coach has now led his club to the last championship series. After also leading Santos Laguna to the final in Clausura 2021, could this finally be the moment Almada not only wins his first Liga MX title, but also helps Pachuca to win his second Liga MX title since 2016?

“Hopefully yes,” Almada said after the win. “We will do our best to achieve our goal.” [but] Toluca will think like us, so let the best man win.”

Pachuca must not overlook a Toluca side whose regular season position could be deceiving. In a short tournament format like Liga MX, it often takes a manager more than one season to buy his roster. At their best, Los Tuzos a much more organized and balanced team that can seamlessly switch from an aggressive attacking style to going deep and defending if needed.

With a good mix of promising academy talent and experienced foreign signings, Pachuca could be the one to finally stop Toluca’s underdogs.

The final schedule of Liga MX

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


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