The semifinals of the 2022 Apertura season are officially over, leaving only two teams competing for the Liga MX title. After the latest batch of playoff games, here are a few talking points and some thoughts ahead of this week’s two-legged finale.
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The title favorites were knocked out by Club America Toluca
No. 6 seed Toluca was being written off before even taking the field last week. In the semifinal round against No. 1 Club America, Toluca was seen as a minor hurdle for the Liga MX giants, who crushed Puebla 11-2 in the quarterfinals.
Then came the blunders, which seemed to double the size of the supposedly harmless barrier. In a surprisingly error-filled evening for Club America, Toluca hit a flurry of errant passes and shaky moments to lead them to a shocking 2-1 victory in the first leg of last Wednesday’s semifinal series.
“This is football, mistakes happen,” Club America manager Fernando Ortiz said after the defeat, describing the result as nothing more than a surprise. “Today they came upon us.”
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At home in the second leg at historic Azteca on Saturday, things did not go well. Las Aguilas. Toluca was solid in defense with excellent performances from defenders Jaret Ortega, Valber Huerta and Andres Mosquera. Goalkeeper Thiago Volpi was impressive with several saves at the weekend to keep Club America to just one goal. With an own goal from left back Jorge Torres Nilo, Toluca finally sneaked out 3-2 on aggregate.
Although Club America almost swung the series in their favour, with Henry Martin’s dramatic strike ruled offside, it would have sent them into the final via a top-flight tiebreaker. Las Aguilas there’s no excuse for them reaching the semi-finals.
The American club, usually able to rely on a number of highly effective options in midfield and attack, were lost to Toluca’s aggressive play when starters such as Diego Valdes and Richard Sánchez were sidelined. Los Diablos Rojos Forced the Mexico City team into mistakes, and in response, Ortiz made questionable substitutions in the second half, which did little to spark new ideas in the final third.
“I’m responsible for this sporting failure,” Ortiz said after the knockout, later adding, “I want to continue.” [as manager].”
As for Toluca, a once defensively weak group of players stepped up at the perfect time. After claiming just six wins between July and September, Los Diablos Rojos and manager Ignacio “Nacho” Ambriz enter the finals with five wins in October alone.
Ambriz was recruited last December ahead of the 2022 Clausura campaign, but finished only 15th in the table. This Apertura season, he has thrived with a flexible defence, holding together an emerging side behind game-changers such as Volpi, Jean Menezes and Leonardo Fernandez.
“Eight months ago we had a disaster,” said Ambriz of winning the American Club. “Now that’s changing.”
In this week’s two-legged championship series against No. 4 Pachuca, Ambriz and his group of players will try to defy expectations once again.
Pachuca again upset after Monterrey
Toluca wasn’t the only Liga MX club to suffer an upset in the semifinals. Pachuca was convincing against second-placed Monterrey in the previous round, eventually beating the favorites 6-2.
The first home match on Thursday set the tone for Pachuca. Fearless with an aggressive attitude, Los Tuzos In the 47th minute, they got off to a great start to the series, beating Pachuca by a narrow margin of 3-2. It was a battle between the two at first, and Monterrey then shot Eric Aguirre red in the 64th minute before Pachuca scored twice in extra time to win the first leg 5-2.
Able to absorb pressure and defend when needed, manager Guillermo Almada deployed a compact version of his usual 4-2-3-1 formation in Sunday’s second leg, leaving a frustrated Monterrey frontline frustrated. lost 1:0. Veteran goaltender Oscar Ustari collected 11 saves, while defensemen like Oscar Murillo, Gustavo Cabral and Kevin Alvarez racked up even more saves and shots. Los Tuzos Surviving Monterrey’s onslaught, he quickly ran out of solutions in the second half.
The streak was all over, and a penalty kick for Pachuca’s Aviles Hurtado, who left Monterrey 2021 short of minutes, in the 95th minute 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 another championship. After pushing Santos Laguna to the 2021 Clausura final, could this be the moment Almada not only wins its first Liga MX title, but also helps Pachuca to its second Liga MX title since 2016?
“Hopefully yes,” Almada said after the win. “We will do our best to achieve the goal, [but] Toluca thinks like us, let the best win.”
Pachuca should not overlook a Toluca side whose regular season status can be deceiving. In a short tournament format like Liga MX, it can take a manager more than a single season to click through his roster. The best of them Los Tuzos they are a very organized and balanced team who can drop deep from an aggressive style of attack and easily switch to defense if needed.
With a good mix of promising academy talent and experienced foreign signings, Pachuca may finally be the ones to stop Toluca.
Liga MX Final Schedule
Pachuca vs. Toluca
First step: Thursday, October 27 (time TBD)
Second leg: Sunday, October 30 (time TBD)