Three Liga MX clubs in the hunt for inaugural final

Cruz Azul got past the Chicago Fire in the Leagues Cup quarterfinals by a 2-0 margin. (Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images)
Cruz Azul got past the Chicago Fire in the Leagues Cup quarterfinals by a 2-0 margin. (Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images) /

América faces the Tigres and Cruz Azul will do battle with the LA Galaxy to determine the finalists for the first-ever Leagues Cup.

A minor debate is being waged across the Liga MX landscape about the América-Tigres match being defined as a Clásico. Whatever label gets attached to it, you don’t want to miss it.

The two giants square off in Houston tonight in the Leagues Cup semifinals a little over a month since the Aguilas defeated the Tigres in the league Champions Cup in a penalty shoot-out.

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That match was the fourth finals encounter for the two clubs in the past five years with América enjoying the advantage. The Mexico City club won the Apertura 2014 Finals (3-1 on aggregate), then lost the Apertura 2016 Finals in a penalty shoot-out before routing the Tigres 4-1 in the 2016 Concacaf Champions League Final.

Tonight in Houston, América coach Miguel Herrera has his work cut out for him since three of his stars are not match fit and are unlikely to see action.

Central defender Emanuel Aguilera, and playmaking midfielders Gio dos Santos and Nicolás Benedetti are hampered by minor injuries and Herrera will be reluctant to risk further damage this early in the season.

These absences are piled on top of the longer-term injuries to strikers Nico Castillo and Henry Martín. But “Piojo” is not throwing up his hands in resignation. He has a deep roster with enough veterans to go toe-to-toe with “Tuca” Ferretti’s Tigres.

Liga MX Leagues Cup
Nicolas Benedetti and Gio dos Santos celebrate after the former scored against the Houston Dynamo in the Leagues Cup quarterfinals. Both midfielders are expected to miss the semifinals match vs. the Tigres. (Photo by Omar Vega/Getty Images) /

The big question is who will start in goal for América. El Tri stalwart Memo Ochoa is on the roster and could get his first start with the Aguilas since returning from Europe although Oscar Jiménez has been perfectly fine since starting keeper Agustín Marchesín departed for Porto earlier this month.

As for the Tigres, they are just getting healthy after a bumpy start to the Apertura 2019 season. Right back “Chaka” Rodríguez is healthy again and winger Javier Aquino was on the travel roster, too. They advanced to the semifinals with a thrilling 1-0 win over Real Salt Lake thanks to a goal by Edu Vargas.

The Tigres are thin on defense after Francisco Meza was lost for the season with a knee injury and defender Carlos Salcedo was a bit hobbled after his service with El Tri in the Gold Cup.

Cruz Azul going all-in vs. Galaxy

Cementeros coach Pedro Caixinha says he will start his best available 11 against his MLS rivals, but Galaxy coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto is expected to play it close to the vest.

The four participating MLS teams took plenty of heat from fans and Cup organizers after they opted to use back-ups and academy players in the quarterfinals. The MLS season is farther advanced than the Liga MX and coaches preferred to focus on their path to the playoffs instead of a new Cup.

Liga MX Leagues Cup
Galaxy goalie Matt Lampson is mobbed by teammates after he stopped the decisive Tijuana penalty kick in their Leagues Cup quarterfinals match. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images) /

The Leagues Cup was not yet organized when the MLS season began, so coaches had not figured it into their training calculations, the argument went. Liga MX teams won three of the four quarterfinals matches, while the Galaxy edged past Tijuana in a penalty shoot-out despite not including star striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Team Mexico midfielder Jona González in their roster.

This time around, coach Barros Schelotto will have Zlatan and Jona available, but they are expected to open the game on the bench. The game will be played at Dignity Health Center near Los Angeles.

La Máquina Azul defeated the Chicago Fire 2-0 in the Leagues Cup quarterfinals, getting goals from Roberto Alvarado and Elías Hernández.

Cruz Azul is off to a rocky start in Liga MX, failing to get their first win until Matchday 4. The Cementeros appear to be finding their form and they will be eager to ensure an all-Liga MX final in Las Vegas.