Toluca, Pachuca over Club America, Monterrey

The semifinals of the 2022 Apertura season are officially over, leaving only two teams in the running for the Liga MX title. After the latest round of playoff games, here are a couple of talking points and some thoughts ahead of this week’s two-game finale.

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Favorite title Club America dismissed by Toluca

No. 6 seed Toluca had already retired before taking the field last week. Against top-seeded Club America in the semifinal round, Toluca was seen as a minor obstacle for the Liga MX giants who previously ousted Puebla 11-2 on aggregate in the quarterfinals.

Then came the bugs that seemed to double the size of their supposedly harmless obstacle. In a strange error-filled evening for Club América, Toluca pounced on misplaced passes and shaky moments to lead them to a shock 2-1 victory in the first leg of last Wednesday’s semifinal series.

“It’s soccer, mistakes happen,” Club America coach Fernando Ortiz said after the loss, dismissing the result as a mere oddity. “They passed us by today.”

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Things didn’t go any better at home during Saturday’s second leg at the historic Estadio Azteca The Eagles. Toluca remained solid defensively, led by outstanding performances from defenders Haret Ortega, Valber Huerta and Andres Mosquera. In net, goalkeeper Tiago Volpi was influential with his handful of saves that kept Club America to just one goal over the weekend. With an own goal from left back Jorge Torres Nilo, Toluca went ahead with an overall result of 3-2.

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Although Club América almost turned the series in their favor with a dramatic stoppage time goal from Henry Martin that was ruled offside, which would have sent them to the final via a bigger tiebreaker. The Eagles they have no excuses for their exit in the semi-finals.

Usually able to rely on numerous high-performing options in midfield and attack, Club America looked lost when starters like Diego Valdés and Richard Sánchez were sent off by Toluca’s aggressive play. The Red Devils forced the Mexico City squad into mistakes and, in response, Ortiz made questionable changes in the second leg that provided little new ideas in the final third.

“I’m responsible for this sporting failure,” Ortiz said after being knocked out, later adding that “obviously I want to continue [as manager].”

As for Toluca, the group of players that were previously weak defensively has picked up steam at the perfect time. After managing just six wins from July to September, The Red Devils and coach Ignacio “Nacho” Ambriz reach the finals with five wins in October alone.

Ambriz was signed last December ahead of the Clausura 2022 campaign, but only finished 15th in the table. In this Obertura season, he has built a team that has thrived on a more resilient defense and produced behind game-changers like Volpi, Jean Meneses and Leonardo Fernández.

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“Eight months ago we were a disaster,” said Ambriz defeating Club América. “It’s changing now.”

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

Pachuca returns to the final upset after Monterrey

Toluca wasn’t the only Liga MX club to pull off an upset in the semifinals. Pachuca were convincing in the previous round against No. 2 seed Monterrey, eventually defeating the favorites 6-2 on aggregate.

Thursday’s home game set the tone for Pachuca. Fearless with his attacking approach, Los Tuzos traded blows in a thrilling start to the series that found Pachuca up 3-2 in the 47th minute. Initially an even battle between the two, Monterrey shot themselves in the foot with a straight red in the 64th minute for Erick Aguirre, who it allowed Pachuca to score twice more and win the first leg by a score of 5-2.

Able to absorb pressure and play defensively if needed, manager Guillermo Almada used a more compact version of his usual 4-2-3-1 formation in Sunday’s second leg, resulting in a frustrated Monterrey front line that couldn’t find the back of the game. net in a 1-0 defeat. With veteran goalkeeper Oscar Ustari racking up 11 saves, and defenders like Oscar Murillo, Gustavo Cabral and Kevin Alvarez racking up even more clearances and tackles. Los Tuzos survived a Monterrey attack that quickly ran out of solutions to problems in 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 with minutes remaining, was the perfect icing on the cake for Almada and his squad.

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

“Hopefully so,” Almada said after the win. “We are going to give everything to achieve the goal, [but] Toluca will think the same as us, so may the best win.”

Pachuca should not overlook a Toluca whose regular season position can be deceiving. In a short tournament format like Liga MX, it can often take a coach more than a season to get his roster clicking. At its best, Los Tuzos they are a much more organized and balanced team that can seamlessly switch from an aggressive attacking style to dropping deep and defending if necessary.

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

Liga MX final schedule

Pachuca vs Toluca
First stage: Thursday, October 27 (time to be determined)
Second stage: Sunday, October 30 (time to be determined)


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