Two left battling for final playoff berth after Matchday 16

MORELIA, MEXICO - APRIL 26: Gabriel Achilier (L) of Morelia fights for the ball with Jesus Angulo (R) of Tijuana during the 16th round match between Morelia and Tijuana as part of the Torneo Clausura 2019 Liga MX at Jose Maria Morelos Stadium on April 26, 2019 in Morelia, Mexico. (Photo by Cesar Gomez/Jam Media/Getty Images)
MORELIA, MEXICO - APRIL 26: Gabriel Achilier (L) of Morelia fights for the ball with Jesus Angulo (R) of Tijuana during the 16th round match between Morelia and Tijuana as part of the Torneo Clausura 2019 Liga MX at Jose Maria Morelos Stadium on April 26, 2019 in Morelia, Mexico. (Photo by Cesar Gomez/Jam Media/Getty Images) /

There is still one spot open in the Liguilla bracket after a wild Matchday 16 that saw three teams eliminated from contention.

The final weekend of the Clausura 2019 offers a win-or-go-home scenario for Tijuana and Puebla but little else of consequence is at stake as Matchday 16 results settled most of the remaining questions.

Santos, Toluca and Lobos BUAP did not get the wins they needed and all three clubs were eliminated from playoff contention. Meanwhile, Cruz Azul, Pachuca and América claimed victories to clinch a spot in the Liguilla, while Necaxa’s draw at Monterrey allowed the Rayos to qualify. They joined León, the Tigres and Monterrey in the quarterfinal brackets.

Puebla and Tijuana are the sole contenders for the last ticket to the postseason and, as it happens, they will square off up at the northern border on Saturday night. The only game involving two playoff sides sees Pachuca visiting León, but other results will impact seeding since León (No. 1) and the Tigres (No. 2) are the only teams to have clinched their position.

León still the favorite

The Esmeraldas had sewn up the top seed before the Chivas snapped their historic 12-game win streak. Necaxa is the only other Mexican team to win 12 games in a row and the Rayos did that back in 1935 during the amateur era.

With home-field advantage throughout the Liguilla already in hand, León has little on the line when they host Pachuca on Saturday. If they had defeated the Chivas, the Esmeraldas could have been playing to set a new short season points record (León has 38 points; América had 42 points in the Apertura 2002, but played 19 games). León could still set a record for most points in a 17-game season with a win over the Tuzos. That would give the Esmeraldas 41 points, surpassing the 40 points earned by Cruz Azul (Apertura 1998) and Toluca (Clausura 2000).

As for the Chivas, the streak-busting victory put an end to their historically bad mark of 1 point in 8 games (0-1-7, 3 goals for, 14 goals against). Never before has the proud Guadalajara franchise suffered such a long stretch of futility.

Xolos, Puebla wrestle for final playoff berth

Tijuana reached the semifinals of the Clausura 2018 season then slumped to 15th place last season. This time around, the Xolos only need a draw at home against Puebla to return to the postseason.

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The Xolos had lost two in a row to drop out of a playoff spot before manhandling Morelia 4-1 on Friday night. When Puebla managed only a home draw against the Tigres, Tijuana moved past the Camoteros into 8th place. Now, Puebla must defeat the Xolos to return to the Liguilla for the first time since December 2015.

Tijuana’s Estadio Caliente is a tough venue for visiting teams and the Xolos have posted a 5-0-2 mark with 13 goals scored and 8 allowed. The synthetic turf makes for a fast-paced game and coach Oscar Pareja has established a quick, vertical style of play that features several physical players. Still, the Xolos lost their last home game to Lobos BUAP.

Puebla is among the best visiting teams in Liga MX (4-1-2, 10 goals scored, 5 goals allowed) and they’ve won their past two road games by a 7-1 combined scoreline. Last season, with both teams out of the playoffs, these two teams played to a scoreless draw in their season finale. I feel rather certain in predicting that there will be goals on Saturday in TJ.

Cruz Azul tops 2018-19 table

If the Liga MX still played a tradition long season instead of two short seasons, Cruz Azul would be top of the table.

The Cementeros were the best team in the Apertura 2018 regular season (11-3-3, 36 points) and through 16 games this season, the “Blue Machine” is 8-5-3 (29 points). So, Cruz Azul has accumulated 65 points in the hypothetical 2018-2019 season.

After their 4-1 win over Lobos BUAP in Week 16, the Cementeros moved past the Tigres who total 63 points thus far. The Tigres 8-5-4 (29 points) in the Apertura 2018 and are 10-4-2 in the Clausura (34 points).

Monterrey would be third in this imaginary Liga MX season (60 points), followed by América (59 points) and León (56).

The Tigres would be the goal-scoring leaders (63 goals) with América (59 goals), the Rayados (58 goals) and León and Pachuca trailing (57 goals).

Cruz Azul would be the best defense (27 goals allowed in 33 games), ahead of the Tigres (33 goals allowed) and León and América (36 goals allowed).

Veracruz scrapes bottom

The toothless Tiburones are on the verge of ignominy. Earlier this season, Veracruz set a new record for quickest team to be demoted, condemned to relegation after a Matchday 11 loss at León. Now they could become the first Liga MX team to finish a season with 0 points.

A few seasons ago, Veracruz management failed to make transfer payments and FIFA took up the cause of the offended Uruguayan club. FIFA issued a small fine and ordered the team to be stripped of 6 points. Since Veracruz only had 4 points at the time of the penalty, they found themselves reduced to 0 points with a 0-4-10 record.

The Tiburones are desperate to avoid the shame of a points-less season, but they’ve lost both games since the sanction was handed down. They are not likely to come away from Saturday’s season finale with a point since América comes to the port city with the desire of improving their playoff seeding. If Cruz Azul and Pachuca lose earlier Saturday, the Aguilas would know that a win over Veracruz could send them into the playoffs as the No. 4 seed.

Rematch in Ascenso MX

San Luis and the Dorados of Sinaloa meet in the Grand Final of Mexico’s second division for the second consecutive season. The first leg will be played Thursday in Sinaloa with the return match taking place Sunday in San Luis Potosí.

Last season, the Tuneros defeated Diego Maradona and the visiting Dorados in a thrilling overtime match after which things got rather testy. Maradona watched the second-leg of the finals from a box seat after he was red-carded in the first leg played in Culiacán, Sinaloa. As the Argentine legend walked down the steps following the game, San Luis fans harassed the coach, provoking a mini-riot.

Sinaloa entered last season’s playoffs as the No. 7 seed and defeated No. 2 seed Zacatecas and No. 1 seed Juárez to reach the finals, but came up short against the No. 5 seed Tuneros.

This season, San Luis completed the regular season undefeated, finishing 7-7-0, while Sinaloa reached the playoffs as the No. 5 seed (5-5-4). The Dorados have thrived in the postseason, shutting out Cimarrones in both quarterfinal matches then dominating No. 2 seed Zacatecas over two legs (5-1 aggregate win).

If San Luis wins the Clausura 2019 final, they earn the right to be promoted to Liga MX. If the Dorados hoist the Clausura 2019 trophy, the two teams would play a rubber series (two legs on a home-and-home basis).

It seems likely that Maradona will be walking away from the Dorados after this season, so he will be battling to earn his first ever championship as a coach.