Ever since Mexico adopted the two-tournament format for its first division, it is rare that all four of the top teams entering the playoffs have advanced to the semifinal round. Yet in the Liga MX Apertura 2013 playoffs, the top four teams – Club America, Santos Laguna, Leon, and Toluca – took care of business and advanced into the semifinals. As a result, Club America will face off against Toluca and Santos will take on Leon.
Toluca who was the fifth seed easily dispatched of fourth seed Cruz Azul, the team that lost in very agonizing fashion the final of the Clausura 2013 finals against Club America. While Cruz Azul were the higher seed, this tie was clearly one where Toluca was the prohibitive favorites given that they were playing better headed into the playoffs.
After easily winning 3-0 at home in the first leg, Toluca went into the second leg as a team who could sit back and counter a Cruz Azul team that was obligated to attack from the beginning in front of a crowd at Estadio Azul that was far from full.
While Cruz Azul took a 1-0 halftime lead, they would not trouble Toluca in the second half and a goal late in the second half saw Toluca secure passage into the semifinals and extend Cruz Azul’s league title drought to 17 years.
The team facing Toluca in the semifinals, Club America, found their quarterfinal tie a much tougher test than their semifinal opponents. Club America advanced over no. 8 seed Tigres UANL despite the aggregate scoreline finishing 3-3, as Club America scored two goals as the visiting team and advanced because of the away goals rule.
Club America found itself playing against the best version of Tigres, who failed to finish off the defending champions in the first leg tie despite outplaying America for large stretches of the tie. Even then, Tigres were a Emmanuel Villa shot off the post away from being the ones advancing to the semifinals.
It is clear that because of the commitment that many of the players on Club America had to make in ensuring Mexico qualified for the 2014 World Cup through a playoff, this was a worn-down team whose rhythm was disrupted. Because of this, Toluca are favorites over America to advance to the finals.
Leon find themselves in their second semifinal in the last three playoffs after having eliminated Monarcas Morelia 7-3 on aggregate with a 4-0 win on Saturday night in the second leg. While Monarcas Morelia came into the second leg with a chance of advancing, it was clear over 180 minutes that Leon were the better team. The job of coach Gustavo Matosas in creating a very solid, attacking team has been great to watch.
Leon’s opponent in the other semifinals tie will be Santos Laguna, who eliminated Queretaro 6-3 on aggregate as they won the second leg of this tie 3-1 on Sunday night. Like Leon, Santos were clearly the best team over the 180 minutes despite Queretaro having some chances of advancing with a favorable result.
The Leon-Santos semifinal tie is one of those that is too close to call given that both teams are mirror images of each other in many ways, but I will give Leon the edge given they have that ‘it factor’ about them at this moment.