Liga MX: Pumas edge Toluca to clinch playoff spot

TOLUCA, MEXICO - NOVEMBER 11: Players of Pumas celebrate after a 16th round match between Toluca and Pumas as part of Torneo Apertura 2018 Liga MX at Nemesio Diez Stadium on November 11, 2018 in Toluca, Mexico. (Photo by Angel Castillo/Jam Media/Getty Images)
TOLUCA, MEXICO - NOVEMBER 11: Players of Pumas celebrate after a 16th round match between Toluca and Pumas as part of Torneo Apertura 2018 Liga MX at Nemesio Diez Stadium on November 11, 2018 in Toluca, Mexico. (Photo by Angel Castillo/Jam Media/Getty Images) /

Three more Liga MX teams clinched playoff berths while five teams remain alive for the final three spots in the Liguilla.

The Pumas, Santos and Monterrey joined Cruz Azul and América in the postseason during a crazy Matchday 16 that saw playoff contenders Pachuca and Querétaro drop points against the two worst teams in the league. With the FIFA break upon us, the final make-up of the Liguilla will have to wait two weeks while teams fret that their star players might get hurt during international friendlies.

The penultimate weekend of the Liga MX season saw Toluca lose at home and André-Pierre Gignac stake his claim to the scoring title as the Frenchman tallied four times. Title contenders América and Santos battled to an entertaining 1-1 tie which means Cruz Azul only needs a point to clinch the top seed in the playoffs.

Toluca 0, UNAM 1

The Pumas played tough defense and relied on their counterattack with striker Carlos González netting the winner in minute 33 off a nifty through pass from fullback Alan Mozo. Lots of hard tackling and tight marking in midfield made for a bit of a disjointed game, as neither goalie faced more than 3 shots but both Alfredo Talavera (Toluca) and Alfredo Saldívar were called on to make one sparkling save each.

Talavera had little chance to stop González just after the half hour mark, however. Mozo snuch inside from his right fullback spot and collected a diagonal pass from González at the top of the half-moon as Felipe Mora made a run in front of him, taking a defender with him. Mora’s move opened a window for Mozo to filter a pass into the box and González one-timed a left-footer over Talavera.

The Pumas again proved they are the Liga MX road warriors , claiming their 6th win away from home. No other team has more than 4.

Santos 1, América 1

The defending champs remained undefeated at home but squandered a chance to claim the No. 2 seed when shoddy marking allowed Bruno Valdez to head home the equalizer for América off a corner kick in minute 61.

Julio Furch nodded home his 12th goal of the season on a corner kick in minute 50 as he backtracked at the back post and still managed to put enough force on the ball to sneak it inside the post. Furch managed to get free from Guido Rodríguez when the Aguilas defender simply failed to follow him as he moved away from goal.

Furch had missed a clear opportunity in the first half when Aguilas goalie Agustín Marchesín palmed away a blast from Ayrton Preciado but only redirected it toward Furch who was alone on the back side. The Argentine striker mishit his header from 8 meters and the ball went wide of the near post.

Santos’ other danger men – Jonathan Rodríguez and Bryan Lozano – were almost completely neutralized by the América defense though part of that was due to their own ineffectiveness. For his part, Lozano was roughed up quite a bit and ref Luis Enrique Santander allowed it to go unchecked. Santos midfielder José Juan Vázquez was also off his game, scattering passes and not causing turnovers.

The tie allowed the Pumas to leapfrog Santos into third place on goal differential but the two teams square off at UNAM on Nov. 25. América could still claim the top seed if they beat Veracruz at home and Cruz Azul loses at Morelia.

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Tijuana 2, Morelia 3

The Monarcas stepped into 8th place (25 points) with a dramatic win as Miguel Sansores completed his brace with a nice goal 6 minutes from time.

Morelia got the break it needed on Friday night when both Pachuca and Querétaro (23 points each) settled for road draws against the two worst teams in the league. The victory over Xolos will go awasting if they fail to defeat league-leading Cruz Azul at home, however. A tie might not be enough since their goal differential is -1 and a Pachuca win over León would allow the Tuzos to claim the final playoff spot. Querétaro remains alive too, but would need a Morelia loss or tie, a Pachuca loss or tie and a 2-goal victory over Necaxa.

In Tijuana, Sansores opened the scoring in minute 39 but Antonio Nava responded for Xolos shortly after halftime, scoring in his Liga MX debut. Sebastián Vegas put the Monarcas back in the lead in minute 61 and Fabián Castillo equalized 11 minutes later, setting the stage for Sansores’ heroics.

The Monarcas were more aggressive in attack than usual but they had to be as Tijuana scored more than 1 goal for the first time since Matchday 6.

Tigres 6, Puebla 1

Puebla walked onto the pitch at Estadio Universitario with playoff dreams and staggered off after experiencing a nightmare. The Camoteros even scored first, bundling in a goal off a goal mouth scramble in minute 18. After that, it was all Tigres.

Gignac chased down a rebound and knocked it into the net only 2 minutes later to steal the energy back from Puebla. Even worse, Puebla goalie Nicolás Vikonis was hurt on the play and replaced by Jesús Rodríguez. The Tigres put three more in the net before halftime and coasted home from there.

Gignac’s romp on the pitch moved him to 14 goals on the season, 2 ahead of Furch with one game to play. Two of the Frenchman’s goals were spectacular – a free kick in minute 20 and a solo effort from a sharp angle in minute 49.

The Tigres (26 points) have not mathematically clinched a playoff spot, but it would take a disaster of great proportions to miss out on the Liguilla. The Tigres would have to lose and Pachuca would have to win and those two outcomes would have to feature a 6-goal swing as the Tigres have a +13 goal differential and Pachuca has a +8.

Elsewhere, visiting Monterrey tied Necaxa 1-1 to climb one spot into 5th and secure their postseason reservation. Cruz Azul defeated Lobos BUAP 2-1 at Estadio Azteca to equal their best-ever home record. The Cementeros’ 8-1-0 mark leads the league and they outscored their visitors by 18-3. Finally, the Chivas ended their 6-game winless streak with a 1-0 win at León.