in 2022 The semifinals of the Apertura season are officially over, leaving only two teams to fight for the Liga MX title. Following the latest playoff games, here are some talking points and thoughts ahead of this week’s back-to-back finals.
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Toluca was ousted by title favorites Club America
No. No. 6 seed Toluca was already written off before even stepping into the field last week. In the semifinals against No. 1 Club America, Toluca was widely seen as a minor obstacle for the Liga MX giants, who had earlier crushed Puebla 11-2 in the quarterfinals.
Then came the bugs that seemed to double down on their seemingly innocuous obstacle. In a strange, error-filled night at Club America, Toluca struggled with misplaced passes and shaky moments that led to a shock 2-1 win in the first leg of their semifinal series last Wednesday.
“It’s football, mistakes happen,” Club America manager Fernando Ortiz said after the loss, calling the result a “freak”. “They happened to us today.”
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Things didn’t improve at home in Saturday’s second leg at the historic Estadio Azteca Las Aguilas. Toluca remained solid defensively, led by standout performances from defenders Haret Ortega, Valbero Huerta and Andres Mosquera. Goalkeeper Tiago Volpi was influential with a handful of saves that kept Club America to just one goal on the weekend. An own goal from left back Jorge Torres Nilo gave Toluca a 3-2 victory in the end.
Despite Club America nearly turning the series in their favor when Henry Martin scored a dramatic goal in overtime that was ruled offside – which would have sent them into the final on a higher score – Las Aguilas have no excuses for their semi-final exit.
Normally able to rely on a number of high-performing midfield and attacking options, Club America looked lost when starters like Diego Valdes and Richard Sanchez were sidelined by Toluca’s aggressive play. Los Diablos Rojos forced the Mexican team into mistakes, and Ortiz responded by making questionable substitutions in the second period that produced 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, a once weak defensive line-up gained momentum at a great time. After winning just six games between July and September, Los Diablos Rojos and manager Ignacio “Nacho” Ambrizas is sprinting into the finals with five wins in October alone.
Ambriz was hired last December before 2022. Clausura campaign, but only took 15th place in the table. This season at the Apertura, he assembled a team that thrived with a more resilient defense behind game-changers like Volpi, Jean Meneses and Leonardo Fernandez.
“Eight months ago, we were a disaster,” said Ambriz after defeating Club America. – This is changing now.
In this week’s back-to-back championship series against No. 4 Pachuca, Ambrizas and his group of players will once again look to defy expectations.
Pachuca upset again after Monterrey
Toluca wasn’t the only Liga MX club to score an upset in the semifinals. Pachuca was convincing against 2nd place Monterrey in the last round and ended up defeating the favorites 6-2.
Thursday’s first game at home set the tone for Pachuca. Unafraid of their attacking attitude, Los Tuzos The series started impressively when Pachuca took a 3-2 lead in the 47th minute. Initially an even battle between the two, Monterrey hit himself in the foot in the 64th minute through a straight red on Erick Aguirre, allowing Pachuca to score twice more to win the first leg 5-2.
Able to soak up pressure and play defensively when needed, coach Guillermo Almada used a more compact version of his usual 4-2-3-1 formation in Sunday’s second leg, preventing Monterrey’s front line from finding the back end. lost 1:0. Veteran goaltender Oscar Ustari had 11 saves, while defensemen like Oscar Murillo, Gustavo Cabral and Kevin Alvarez collected even more shutouts and steals. Los Tuzos survived a Monterey offense that quickly ran out of solutions in the second half.
After the end of the streak, Pachuca’s Aviles Hurtado scored from a penalty in the 95th minute, which in 2021 leaving Monterrey after a few minutes of deficit was the perfect icing on the cake for Almada and his team.
Arriving in December before 2022 Clausura campaign, the 56-year-old Uruguay coach has now taken his club to the championship series. After the 2021 The Clausura also saw Santos Laguna pushed to the finals, could it finally be the moment when Almada not only wins their first Liga MX title, but also helps Pachuca to their second Liga MX championship since 2016?
“I hope so,” Almada said after the win. “We intend to give our all to achieve the goal, [but] Toluca will think the same as we do, so may the best win.”
Pachuca should not overlook a Toluca team whose regular season standings can be deceiving. In a short tournament format like Liga MX, it can often take a manager more than one season to get his roster going. At best Los Tuzos is a much more organized and well-balanced team that can seamlessly transition from an aggressive attacking style to dropping deep and defending when needed.
With a good mix of promising academy talent and experienced foreign signings, Pachuca could be the one to finally stop rivals Toluca.
Liga MX final schedule
Pachuca vs. Toluca
First stage: Thursday, October 27 (time TBD)
Second leg: Sunday, October 30 (time TBD)