Las Aguilas are into the playoff positions while the reigning champion once again struggles on the back of a title. Goal reviews Round 12 …
As we returned from the international break, there were some definitive things to take from this weekend in Liga MX play (see Goal of the Week) and then there were some things that left us scratching our heads (see points two and three). Of course, it wouldn't be sports and it certainly wouldn't be Liga MX if things went according to plan.
Still, though, Toluca on top? Tigres out of the Liguilla? At this stage of the year? It doesn't add up.
Let's dive in and examine the lessons we learned, whether they were surprises or confirmations of thoughts we previously held.
America in 'win ugly' mode
After securing a second consecutive victory and avoiding defeat for the fourth week in a row, Club America is back in the playoff positions. Las Aguilas sit seventh with 17 points after a 1-0 victory against Monterrey. Coach Ricardo La Volpe isn't exactly engineering tactical masterpieces to get the results. His squad won ugly Saturday, but at least it won.
There's nothing wrong with Oribe Peralta's winner, but it wasn't by design. After a Monterrey defender headed away a cross, Osmar Mares put in a ball that somehow found Peralta's chest and the forward poked the ball home as former teammate Hugo Gonzalez looked back.
The weekend before the international break, against Pumas, the team found three points in a hostile venue — again without much flair aside from a few skill moves from 16-year-old Diego Lainez. Much of the shift in style was by necessity. Cecilio Dominguez again left the field with a shoulder injury and Darwin Quintero remains out injured. At the back, you could've made a starting back line with America's suspensions and injuries, with Paul Aguilar, Paolo Goltz, Pablo Aguilar and Miguel Samudio all unavailable.
"I want to congratulate all the guys, but most of all the boys who hadn't had regular playing time and came in and performed in the face of all the absences," La Volpe said.
The fact that the Mexico City side is able to grind out results speaks to the quality of the players remaining — two of them teenagers — and La Volpe accepting he must work with what he has left. They're not beautiful, but they are victories.
Tigres again victim of Clausura complacency
Tigres won the league title in the 2015 Apertura, then sleepwalked through the Clausura, making the CONCACAF Champions League final but falling short in that competition and narrowly making it into the Liguilla. Saturday's 1-0 loss to Leon, a team previously in last place, is confirmation the team is doing the same.
You'd be a fool to argue that this isn't one of the most talented teams in Mexico. And despite an injury to Jurgen Damm, who hurt his ankle with the Mexican national team, another El Tri winger, Javier Aquino, returned. Such is life at the deepest team in the league.
Yet, the team is repeating the mistakes it made in the previous tournament. Once again, the CCL final is well in sight, but the Liguilla will be tough to make. Coach Ricardo "Tuca" Ferretti said there's still time to make it into the top eight (the team sits 13th, four points out of the final spot) but couldn't hide his disappointment with the loss.
"It's a very bad result, horrible, and with this result the picture looks dark," he said. "We needed the result to move up in the table. Any time you play and lose it's a big step back. The start of the season wasn't what we hoped for and now recently has been even worse."
Would a CCL title be enough to placate fans who have become used to trophies? Maybe, but there's really no excuse for a team as stacked as this one to be doing this poorly. The upcoming schedule isn't easy either, with a trip to Necaxa followed up by games against Chivas, Pumas and Monterrey.
Toluca a strange leader
Obviously you don't get to the top of the table by accident, and Toluca coach Hernan Cristante deserves credit for getting his team to the No. 1 spot, where the Red Devils sit after Sunday's 2-0 win over Necaxa,
Toluca has yet to put together a convincing performance and beyond that is missing Rubens Sambueza and Enrique Triverio for the rest of Clausura because of suspension. Yet, here they are, a point clear at the top of the table. Even after losing to Puebla 3-1 at home several weeks ago. Even after being played off the field by Chivas in Guadalajara in a 2-0 defeat. Even the win Sunday was more grit than glamor.
"They're difficult teams who give you very little space," Cristante said of Necaxa and its ilk. "You have to create options however you can. At no time was it an easy game."
The fact that the team is on the top of the table is enhanced by the fact that it's the club's 100th anniversary, with a centennial season something Mexican clubs go all out to celebrate. A title still doesn't look to be in the cards, but for now results are coming.
Xolos' road only getting tougher
Club Tijuana went into the week without coach Miguel Herrera (something that will continue for four more matches) and midfielder Guido Rodriguez, who will return from suspension next week. Tijuana got a 3-3 draw against Atlas in Guadalajara. That's a fine result on its face, but Xolos lost their head a bit, blowing a lead twice and seeing Jorge Ortiz sent off in the 71st minute. Rodriguez can slot right back in, but Tijuana needs to keep its head in future games.
The slate brings matches with America, Queretaro, Chiapas, Toluca and Tigres next, all clashes that could be difficult and will require cooler heads to prevail.
Aviles Hurtado's stunning overhead opener and his second goal to give Xolos the lead are indicative of how excellent he's been, and the team's back line has improved as the year has progressed. Tijuana can't afford to slip out of the playoffs as it did two Clausuras back. The team sits fourth, but is just two points from the final Liguilla place. Xolos are going to have to play smart to make sure the playoffs don't get away from them.
Relegation not decided yet
This weekend saw two teams threatened by the impending drop show signs of life. Last-place Veracruz, despite having no fans supporting it because of a stadium ban lingering from supporters' fight with traveling Tigres fans, was able to exert home-field advantage once again. The Tiburones Rojos toppled Cruz Azul, 3-1, in the first match of the weekend but remain at the bottom of the relegation table.
Just two points ahead, though, are Monarcas. The team from Morelia was able to hold a Chivas team that came in as the leader of the league scoreless in a draw that added just a bit of separation from Veracruz.
And one point ahead of Monarcas sits Chiapas, which was thumped at home by Pumas, 3-0.
All three clubs have shown signs of life this season, and unlike many tournaments this may come down to the final weekend if these teams continue to find results in unexpected places.
Morelia, in particular, sits near the playoff positions and could return to the Liguilla if it's able to keep picking up points. Raul Ruidiaz and Andy Polo, the club's Peruvian attackers, will need to find the back of the net if that is going to come off, but keeping Chivas scoreless showed the back line can hold big teams as well as the lesser opposition it had held in the previous weeks.
Goal of the Week
Some weeks, the goal of the week is a question and we pick a finish that could be debated. This is not one of those weeks.
Aviles Hurtado running up to and converting a bicycle kick from this Joe Corona corner likely will be the goal of 2017 in Liga MX. There's no doubt it's the best from Round 12.
Hurtado claimed during the week that he practiced this type of kick during the week and was happy it came off this time. Here's hoping for many more to enjoy.
Notimex reports former Mexico international and Pachuca forward Nery Castillo has officially retired, three years on from his last professional appearance, and is running a fishing gear store in Greece. Next time you're in Attiki, swing by Nery's Fishing.