Toluca, Pachuca over Club America, Monterrey

The semifinals of the 2022 Apertura season are now officially over, leaving just two teams in contention for the Liga MX title. After the latest batch of playoff games, here’s some conversation and some thoughts ahead of this week’s two-legged finale.

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Title favorites Club America were knocked out by Toluca

No. 6 Toluca was already written off before even taking the field last week. Up against No. 1 seed Club America in the semifinal round, Toluca was widely seen as a small obstacle for the Liga MX giants, who had previously thrashed Puebla 11-2 on aggregate in the quarterfinals.

Then there were the bugs that seemed to double the size of their supposed harmless ban. In an evening full of strange errors at Club America, Toluca hit on misplaced passes and stunning moments to lead to a shock 2-1 victory in the first leg of last Wednesday’s semi-final.

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

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Things didn’t go any better at home in Saturday’s second leg at the historic Estadio Azteca. Las Aguilas. Toluca remained solid defensively, led by standout performances from defenders Jaret Ortega, Valber Huerta and Andres Mosquera. In net, goalkeeper Thiago Volpi was impressive with several saves that kept Club America to just one goal on the weekend. Toluca eventually sneaked ahead, 3-2 on aggregate, thanks to an own goal from left back Jorge Torres Nilo.

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Although Club America almost turned the series in their favor with a dramatic injury time goal from Henry Martin that was ruled offside, which would have sent them into the final on a higher tiebreaker. Las Aguilas they have no excuses for reaching the semi-finals.

Usually able to rely on plenty of high-performing midfield and attacking options, Club America looked lost when starters like Diego Valdes and Richard Sanchez were ruled out by Toluca’s aggressive play. Los Diablos Rojos forced Mexico City into mistakes, and in response, Ortiz made questionable substitutions in the second leg that did little to inspire new ideas in the final third.

“I’m responsible for this athletic failure,” Ortiz said after the knockout, later adding, “Obviously I want to continue. [as manager]”.

As for Toluca, a once defensively weak group of players has gained momentum at the perfect time. After only six wins between July and September, Los Diablos Rojos and manager Ignacio “Nacho” Ambriz come into the finals with five wins 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 assembled a side that has flourished with a more resilient defense and has emerged behind the likes of Volpi, Jean Meneses and Leonardo Fernandez.

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“Eight months ago we were a disaster,” Ambriz said after beating Club America. “It’s changing now.”

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

After Monterrey, Pachuca returned to the ultimate failure

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

Pachuca celebrated the first home game on Thursday. Undaunted by their aggressive approach, Los Tuzos Pachuca won the series 3-2 in the 47th minute. It was an even battle between the two early on, then Monterrey had Eric Aguirre hit on the leg with a straight red in the 64th minute, allowing Pachuca to score twice more to win the first leg 5-2.

Also adept at absorbing pressure and defending when needed, coach 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 frontline that couldn’t find the backline. in a net 1-0 defeat. Veteran goalkeeper Oscar Ustari collected 11 saves, and defensemen like Oscar Murillo, Gustavo Cabral and Kevin Alvarez are collecting more shutouts and shots. Los Tuzos survived a Monterey offense that quickly ran out of tackles in the second half.

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After the streak ended, a 95th-minute penalty goal by Pachuca’s Aviles Hurtado, who left Monterrey in 2021 after missing minutes, was the perfect clincher for Almada and his team.

Arriving in December ahead of the 2022 Clausura campaign, the 56-year-old Uruguayan has now taken his club to back-to-back championships. After also pushing Santos Laguna to the final in the 2021 Clausura, could it finally be the moment Almada not only wins their first Liga MX title, but also helps Pachuca win their second Liga MX championship since 2016?

“We hope yes,” Almada said after the victory. “We are going to give everything to achieve the goal. [but] Toluca will be thinking the same as we are, so may the best win.”

Pachuca should not overlook a Toluca team whose regular season position can be deceiving. In a short-lived tournament format like Liga MX, it can often take a manager more than a season to tighten up his roster. At their best, Los Tuzos is a much more organized and balanced team, able to switch seamlessly from an aggressive attacking style to dropping deep and defending when needed.

With a good mix of promising academy talent and experienced overseas signings, Pachuca could be the one to finally stop the underdog 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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