The Copa MX begins its 6-week march to the April 10 Final with four games Tuesday followed by another four contests Wednesday.
Sixteen teams survived the Copa MX group stage to reach the knockout matches – 10 Liga MX teams and 6 Ascenso MX teams – and they will do battle to succeed Cruz Azul as Copa MX champions.
In the Round of 16, six matches will feature a Liga MX vs Ascenso MX pairing. Only two os the eight games pit Liga MX teams against each other (Puebla at Morelia and Pachuca at América).
Here are Tuesday’s match-ups (with seedings in brackets):
(16) Puebla at (1) Morelia
A perfect example of how league form is not necessarily reflected in the Cup. Morelia claimed the top seed by being the only one of the 27 participating teams to win all four of its group-stage matches.
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In league play, the Monarcas have just 1 win (1-1-6) and, on Sunday, they fired coach Roberto Hernández. Gastón Obleda will serve as interim coach and will manage the team on Tuesday night as ownership looks for Hernández’s replacement.
Puebla has perked up a bit since José Luis Sánchez Solá took over for Enrique Meza three weeks ago. The Camoteros have not lost since firing Meza, going 2-3-0 including an impressive scoreless tie at league-leading Monterrey on Saturday.
Since the Copa MX returned in its current format (in 2012), Morelia and Puebla have each hoisted the trophy – the Monarcas in the Apertura 2013 tournament and Puebla in Clausura 2015.
(11) Atlas at (6) Dorados of Sinaloa
The struggling Zorros travel to Culiacán to take on a scuffling Dorados team in a game where considerable attention will be paid to the benches where Sinaloa coach Diego Maradona will be sitting. The broadcast networks always have a camera trained on the controversial Maradona as he manages his team, chews his fingernails and yells at the ref.
Atlas finished behind the Pumas in Group 9 but in league play the Zorros have landed in a slump. After a 3-1-1 start, the Zorros have lost three straight to fall out of the playoff spots.
The Dorados opened the season not knowing if Maradona was still going to be their coach after leading them to the Ascenso MX final last season. They have stumbled in league play, in last place with a 1-1-4 record, struggling to replace top striker Vinicio Angulo who now plays for León.
The Dorados won the Apertura 2012 Cup.
(9) Oaxaca at (8) Tijuana
The Alebrijes surprised everybody by winning Group 4 after stunning Cruz Azul in Estadio Azteca. Oaxaca faced León twice, winning the first on the road and drawing 1-1 at home.
Goalie Luis Robles has played well for Oaxaca and midfielder Renato Román could give Tijuana fits. Veteran striker Taufic Guarch is capable of doing some damage too. Guarch had a brief career in Liga MX, playing a few seasons with the Tecos and the Tigres.
Oaxaca is in fourth place in the Ascenso MX, but has only scored 5 goals in 8 games.
Tijuana finished atop Group 1, edging Pachuca, and coach Oscar Pareja has the Xolos playing extremely well. The team in the border is demonstrating patience and discipline, and showing greater understanding of the tactics installed by Pareja since he took over in January.
Strikers Gustavo Bou (pictured at top) and Ariel Nahuelpan have added punch to the attack, but we’ll have to see if Pareja selects a first-choice line-up or if he opts to rest a few starters and use academy players.
Tijuana climbed into seventh place in Liga MX after a gritty late comeback win on the road at Necaxa.
The Alebrijes made the Clausura 2014 Final before succumbing to the Tigres.
(13) Pachuca at (4) América
Liga MX champions América were knocked out at this stage last season when second division Juárez ousted them in penalty kicks after a 20-shot penalty shoot-out. Coach Miguel Herrera is determined to win the Cup this season and end the Aguilas 45-year Copa drought.
América has a loaded roster including academy players who have been contributing in league play, especially because of injuries. So even if Herrera opts for a second-choice line-up, the Aguilas should be favored from here on out. It will be interesting to see how long (or if) Herrera uses the two newest acquisitions – striker Nico Castillo and playmaker Nicolás Benedetti. The sooner they settle into their roles, the better América will be the rest of the season.
Pachuca comes into the match on a high after dismantling the Chivas at home on Saturday. The Tuzos have been inconsistent in league play, but have begun to get more comfortable with coach Martin Palermo’s style of play. Palermo inherited the Tuzos job from Pako Ayestarán who was fired after Pachuca lost 3-0 to América in Week 3.