Week 4: America hosts Monterrey in marquee match-up

MONTERREY, MEXICO - MAY 21: Dorlan Pabon of Monterrey fights for the ball with Paul Aguilar of America during the semi finals second leg match between Monterrey and America as part of the Clausura 2016 Liga MX at BBVA Stadium on May 21, 2016 in Monterrey, Mexico. (Photo by Azael Rodriguez/LatinContent/Getty Images)
MONTERREY, MEXICO - MAY 21: Dorlan Pabon of Monterrey fights for the ball with Paul Aguilar of America during the semi finals second leg match between Monterrey and America as part of the Clausura 2016 Liga MX at BBVA Stadium on May 21, 2016 in Monterrey, Mexico. (Photo by Azael Rodriguez/LatinContent/Getty Images) /

Week 4 opens with a whisper (Veracruz at Puebla) rises to a crescendo Saturday night with a battle of title favorites (Monterrey at América) and promises an exciting coda (Cruz Azul at Tijuana).

In between, the struggling Chivas host a Santos team in turmoil and the table-topping Pumas get a visit from cellar-dwelling Pachuca.

Veracruz at Puebla

Both teams have identical goal differentials (2 goals for, 6 goals against) but Puebla’s two goals came in a victory. The host Tiburones will be desperate for points at home after giving up a 93rd minute equalizer to Morelia last week and relegation is staring them in the face. The strike tandem of Cristián Menéndez and Antonio Luna have failed to click and midfield general Carlos Esquivel will be called upon to provide them with decent service.

Puebla has also struggled to find a rhythm on offense but coach Enrique Meza will be far more concerned with his defense’s tendency to leave goalie Nicolás Vikonis exposed due to frequent breakdowns.

Necaxa at Morelia

If Necaxa is to make the playoffs this season the Rayos will have to be competitive on the road. Morelia has failed to keep a clean sheet through three matches so Necaxa will be confident of goals, with league-leading scorer Víctor Dávila poised to test Monarcas goalie Sebastián Sosa.

The midfield battle will be key for Morelia since the Rayos offense revolves around quick passing and quick movement through the middle of the pitch. Mati Fernández is key for the Rayos. Morelia’s best chance is to strike on the counterattack, especially pushing down the flanks and testing the defense with centering passes.


Atlas at Lobos BUAP

Perhaps the least-attractive game on the Week 4 slate, Atlas is the only team in the league that has yet to score and Lobos BUAP are considered along with Veracruz as the top candidate for demotion.

Clifford Aboagye and Bryan Garnica are Atlas’ offensive threats, but the former has been off target and the latter has been turnover prone. Team USA defender Omar González appears set to team up with Leiton Jiménez to strengthen the Zorros’ back line.

The Lobos surely rue the last-second loss at 10-man Necaxa last week and can’t afford to drop points at home. Coach Paco Palencia is still waiting for striker Colin Kazim to find his footing in Mexico.

Querétaro at León

León earned its first point of the season last week at Tijuana and will hope to carry some momentum into this must-win clash against the Gallos Blancos. Midfielder Luis Montes and skipper Mauro Boselli have underperformed this season and goalie Rodolfo Cota has often found himself in 1-on-1 situations so coach Gustavo Díaz will have addressed that. I’d like to see youngster Héctor Mascorro given an opportunity at winger.

Querétaro has had only one tough test this season (last week at Monterrey) and the Gallos Blancos wilted after taking an early lead. The offense has misfired too often and Matías Brito and Edson Puch are capable of delivering more in attack. Coach Rafa Puente might tinker with his line-up to try to provide a spark.

Toluca at Tigres

This is a wonderful warm-up match for the headliner to follow with both championship-caliber teams mired in mini-slumps. Toluca – last season’s No. 1 seed – has been uncharacteristically erratic and they will face a wounded Tigres squad without goalie Alfredo Talavera who is serving a two-game suspension for last week’s red card. MVP Rubens Sambueza has been his clever best, but his forwards have failed to finish off plays. Alexis Canelo has been awful so coach Hernán Cristante might look to Enrique Triverio.

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The powerhouse Tigres have not scored in 210 minutes (counting Cup action) but the return of striker André-Pierre Gignac who missed last week’s game due to illness (and the absence of Talavera) should allow Tuca Ferreti’s charges to hit the net. The use of a double-pivot (Guido Pizarro and Rafael Carioca) and the inefficiency of wingers Joaquín Aquino and Jurgen Damm have also led to the offensive struggles.

Monterrey at América

Once again, Estadio Azteca is the site of the featured game of the week as two heavyweights will slug it out on the torn-up turf inside the Giant of Santa Ursula. The visiting Rayados are in third place and the Águilas are right behind in fourth place and both feature high-powered attacks. Expect this to be a run-and-gun affair that will severely test goalies Marco Barovero and Agustín Marchesín.

Unbeaten Monterrey features a flowing offense that has generated plenty of opportunities but wasteful finishing. The return from injury of Rogelio Funes Mori promises to solve that issue and as Rodolfo Pizarro becomes more familiar with his teammates the Rayados will be even more dangerous.

Teen sensation Diego Lainez was the story for América last week but he will face a more physical opponent this week. Forwards Oribe Peralta and Roger Martínez will have to take the pressure off the youngster and midfield enforcer Guido Rodríguez might be called upon to protect Lainez. Fullbacks Luis Reyes and Paul Aguilar might be the key to the match for the Aguilas. If they can hold their own against Pizarros, Dorlan Pabón and Avilés Hurtado and still find the stamina to push forward, I like the Aguilas’ chances.


Pachuca at UNAM

On paper, this is a gigantic mismatch. The first-place Pumas have scored 10 times in three games while Pachuca failed to score in its first three games until minute 90 of last week’s game – and that was on a penalty kick.

UNAM will show no mercy, playing its pressing defense and attack vertically on the wings. Young fullbacks Alan Mozo and Alan Mendoza have been very effective getting forward and Pablo Barrera, Carlos González and Felipe Mora have worked well together even though the latter two just joined the team this summer. Goalie Alfredo Saldívar has been steady between the pipes and he might have an easy day against the feeble Tuzos.

Pachuca skipper Erick Gutiérrez has been a disappointment in midfield (perhaps in a funk after a move to a European club failed to develop). Erick Aguirre and Víctor Guzmán have also been sub-par through three games. Goalie Alfonso Blanco has been unreliable too, not a good combination.

Santos at Guadalajara

This is the game with the most drama. Defending champions Santos had a turbulent week that saw coach Robert Siboldi and his coaching staff resign after a locker room dust-up. Defender Gerardo Alcoba was the culprit and it will be interesting to see if interim coach Salvador Reyes returns him to the line-up … and how the rest of the team responds to the chaos.

The Chivas have just 1 point from three games and will be without midfielder Orbelín Pineda (red card suspension). New coach José Cardozo has not found an effective offensive combination so he might have Alan Pulido and even Ángel Zaldívar (two goals last week, but three other chances missed) on a short leash.

Cruz Azul at Tijuana

This could be the most exciting game of the weekend as the unbeaten and unscored-upon Cementeros take on a Xolos squad that attacks vertically and constantly.

Second-place Cruz Azul will arrive in the border city with renewed optimism after missing the playoffs each of the past seven seasons. Newcomers Elías Hernández and Roberto Alvarado have provided slick offensive movement and should thrive on the quick Tijuana astroturf. Striker Martín Cauteruccio will occupy the Xolos central defense duo of Julián Velázquez and Juan Carlos Valenzuela and keeper Gibrán Lajud will have to be sharp.

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The Cementero defense will surely be tested and goalie Jesús Corona will be eager to keep his shut-out streak going. Midfielder Iván Marcone has been a bulldog in front of the backline and new signee Pablo Aguilar has been a rock in defense alongside Julio César Domínguez. Rafa Baca and Javier Salas will be called upon to break up Tijuana’s rapid-fire passing attack. Xolos forwards Erick “El Cubo” Torres and Juan Martín Lucero will look to find space between lines and test Corona with as many shots as possible.