Are you ready for the Liguilla? Here are some odds & ends that may win you some bar bets.
The Liga MX postseason kicks off Wednesday night after an entertaining Apertura 2018 that saw the top 7 seeds dominate the table. After every weekend since Matchday 8, Cruz Azul, América, UNAM, Santos, Monterrey, Tigres and Toluca were always in playoff position, with Morelia, Pachuca and Querétaro alternating as the eighth team in the mix.
Before the opening whistle blows, we’re going to take the time to toss out some fun facts that might be apropos of nothing. But here goes anyway.
This is the 45th “short season” since the switch was made ahead of the Winter 1996 campaign. Only 18 times in the 44 previous seasons has the No. 1 seed reached the finals, and only 7 times have the league leaders been crowned champion.
Cruz Azul finished as the top seed 6 times since 1996 but has never won a short season title as the No. 1 seed. The last time a top seed won the Liguilla was the Apertura 2014 season when América defeated Tigres on a 3-1 aggregate score.
The results of the Apertura 2018 regular season mark the first time since the Apertura 2006 that the three Mexico City teams finished in the top 3. This year Cruz Azul finished first with 36 points, followed by América (33) and Pumas (30). And 12 years ago, Cruz Azul again finished first (30 points), while Pumas edged América on goal differential to claim 2nd (they each had 29 points).
Bests and Worsts and Streaks
América is the hottest Liga MX team, entering the Liguilla with an 11-game unbeaten streak (6-5-0). The Águilas also finished the season with the fewest losses – 2.
Cruz Azul was the league’s best home team, finishing the season 8-1-0. The only blemish on the Cementeros record was a 0-0 tie against América, which also calls Estadio Azteca home.
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The Pumas are the worst home team of the 8 playoff teams, going 2-4-2 at the CU. The will host the Tigres Sunday on a 4-game winless streak at home (0-3-1). However, UNAM was the league’s best road team, going 6-2-1 when playing off campus. No other Liga MX team had more than 4 road wins.
The Tigres have won each of the past three Apertura championships, defeating the Pumas in Apertura 2015 (on penalty kicks), slipping past América in Apertura 2016 (also on penalty kicks) and winning the Apertura 2017 by beating crosstown rivals Monterrey. The Tigres were also in the Apertura 2014 final, losing to América.
The 8 coaches who will be standing on the sidelines during the Liguilla have earned quite a bit of hardware.
Six of the coaches have managed and/or played in the finals so there is no shortage of playoff experience to draw from. Only two have not played or coached in the finals – Santos’ Salvador Reyes and Querétaro’s Rafa Puente, Jr. Both, however, cut their teeth in Ascenso MX and led teams to titles and promotion to Liga MX – Reyes at Querétaro in 2006 and Puente with Lobos BUAP in 2017.
Four of the coaches have won Liguilla titles and Tigres coach Ricardo “Tuca” Ferretti holds the all-time record for league titles with 6 (Chivas – Summer 1997; Pumas – Clausura 2009; Tigres – Apertura 2011, Apertura 2015, Apertura 2016 and Apertura 2017). Tuca also has coached in more finals than any other coach in Mexican soccer history, 11.
Monterrey’s Diego Alonso led Pachuca to the Clausura 2016 title, Cruz Azul’s Pedro Caixinha managed Santos to the Clausura 2015 title and América’s Miguel Herrera hoisted the trophy after América won the Clausura 2013 title.
The two other coaches – UNAM’s David Patiño and Toluca’s Hernán Cristante – both won titles as players. Patiño won two league titles as a player, the first with the 1990-1991 Pumas and his second with Pachuca during the Winter 1999 season. Incidentally, one of Patiño’s teammates on the Pumas team that defeated América in that classic 1991 final was Tuca Ferretti.
Cristante was the goalie on the powerhouse Toluca teams that won 6 league titles between 1999 and 2010. In addition, Patiño and Cristante are trying to match Tuca and Herrera in another category. Only 12 men have won Liguillas as both player and coach – Tuca won twice as a player with the Pumas and Herrera won once while playing with Atlante.
Speaking of coaches …
The Xolos of Tijuana on Tuesday announced the signing of Oscar Pareja as their new coach. This is a pretty big deal as Liga MX is now apparently raiding MLS coaching staffs (it becomes a trend as soon as Atlanta United coach Gerardo Martino signs on to be the new manager of El Tri).
Pareja – a Colombian – won an MLS title with FC Dallas. He replaces Diego Cocca who was fired after Matchday 14 with Freddy Oviedo serving as interim coach to see out the disappointing season.
Cocca managed to fashion a strong defensive squad for the border team, but was not able to install a productive offense. Only Atlas scored fewer goals in Liga MX than did the Xolos this season.